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Treason charge against journalist stays

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SUVA (Pacific Media Watch): Fiji journalist Jo Nata and politician Ratu Timoci Silatolu, supporters of coup frontman George Speight, still face treason charges after a judge ruled that the military commander had no lawful authority to promulgate an immunity decree.

The Supreme Court ruling means the two men must now enter pleas on the treason charges and they will stand trial.

Justice Andrew Wilson said the men had argued that a pardon had been obtained for their alleged crimes stemming from their role in support of the Speight putsch in May 2000.

"Each applicant relies upon the Immunity Decree 2000, which he maintains is valid and grants him, along with the others, a pardon in the form of immunity from prosecution under the Penal Code," Justice Wilson said.

Referring to the landmark ruling of the Court of Appeal on farmer Chandrika Prasad against the state, Justice Wilson said the 1997 Constitution had not been abrogated.

He said Prasad's case was of fundamental importance to the determination of the immunity decree.

"The power of the pardon could only be exercised by the President on the advice of the Commission on the Prerogative of Mercy. Such advice was neither given nor received," Justice Wilson said.

Under the 1997 Constitution, Justice Wilson said the power of pardon was limited to the granting of a pardon or a conditional pardon specifically to the leader of the military coup that took place in Fiji on May 14 and September 26 of 1987, members of the Fiji Military Forces, the police force and the Fiji prison services.

Jo Nata, who was publicist for Speight at the height of the putsch, is former training coordinator of the now defunct Fiji Journalism Institute (FJI).

* Meanwhile, the Fiji Sun reports in a front-page story today that two decrees signed by military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama in an attempt to abrogate the 1997 Constitution are likely to be used as evidence in a treason charge that may be levelled against him.

The newspaper claimed that police and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions were investigating a complaint against the commander alleging treason that had been filed by the Fiji Citizens Freedom Movement (FCFM).



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