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Retired Publisher, Opposition Call For Treason

Retired Publisher, Opposition Call For Treason Charges

SUVA (PMW): A retired newspaper publisher and the opposition party defeated in Fiji's 1999 general election and implicated in the May insurrection have independently called for treason charges against deposed elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry for campaigning internationally for a quick restoration of democracy.

Sir Len Usher, a former publisher of The Fiji Times and a life member of the Pacific Islands News Association, made his call in a rhetorical letter to the editor in the Daily Post on 30 September 2000.

Although not naming Chaudhry, the public was left in no doubt that he was referring to the ousted prime minister who has been on a global trip lobbying governments, political and human rights groups about the reality of Fiji since a military-backed interim regime was installed in July.

"When a prominent Fiji citizen travels to one overseas country after another, trying to persuade foreign governments to inflict hardships and loss on the people of Fiji by means of sanctions, isn't this treason, and shouldn't the perpetrators be shut away on Nukulau [prison], awaiting trial?" Usher asked.

Some media commentators were stunned by the comment of Usher, a founder of PINA, comparing Chaudhry and his Fiji Labour Party's crusade for restoration of the 1997 multiracial constitution and democracy with the actions of coup leader George Speight and his gunmen.

Speight and 20 of his rebels are detained on Nukulau Island, near Suva, on treason charges for their alleged role in seizing the elected government hostage for 56 days and a series of violent political crimes during the crisis.

The Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) party founded by former coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka has called for the arrest of Chaudhry and his colleagues making "damaging reports" about Fiji overseas.

According to a Daily Post front page report on September 30, SVT general secretary Jone Banuve said Chaudhry and his colleagues should be arrested under the 2000 Emergency Decrees which were imposed under martial law on May 30.

Banuve said this should be done as soon as they set foot on Fiji soil, saying the SVT party would strongly support such a move.

He claimed the damage caused by Chaudhry's group was "equal in volume" to what Speight and his rebels had.

"Because of this, they should be charged with treason and be taken to Nukulau Island," Banuve said.

Instead, Chaudhry and his colleagues should divert their energies into the work being done in Fiji rather than "trying to destabilise the interim government through foreign intervention", Banuve was quoted by the Daily Post as saying.

Banuve said the SVT would strongly oppose the ousted Chaudhry-led coalition government's calls for a government of national unity.

The Daily Post did not report any reaction from the interim administration or the Fiji Labour Party to the "arrest Chaudhry" call.

The SVT leader, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, is Information and Communications Minister in the interim administration led by unelected Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, a former banker. Kubuabola and at least four others in the administration were implicated in the insurrection.

+++niuswire

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH ONLINE: http://www.pmw.c2o.org

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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