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Hansard Reporter Gives Evidence In Treason Trial

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* See item PMW 3857

SUVA (Pacnews/Pacific Media Watch): A Fiji Hansard reporter today told a treason trial she was scared, shocked and stunned when the parliamentary session on 19 May 2000 was unceremoniously adjourned after what she called "strangers" entered the chambers, Pacnews reports.

The strangers started ordering MPs around before firing shots into the air.

Giving evidence at the trial against journalist/publicist Josefa Nata and former MP Ratu Timoci Silatolu, Serei Seniloli Muacavu, the first Hansard reporter on duty in the House that morning, gave a running account of how the strangers interrupted the session.

She said they jumped over the security bars separating MPs from the public gallery about 10.30am saying: "Sit down and remain calm, this is a civil coup. Nobody move, this is a civil coup by the people, by the Taukei people, nobody will get hurt".

As her work required, Muacavu recorded every word the two "strangers" uttered, calling coup-maker, George Speight "Stranger Number 1" and another armed man, "Stranger Number 2".

The court heard every word of Speight and his followers as Justice Andrew Wilson read Hansard extracts written down by Muacavu that morning, orders uttered in English and Fijian and protesting replies to them by Dr Tupeni Baba, Mahendra Chaudhry's deputy at the time.

The court also heard how the Speaker, the late Dr Apenisa Kurisaqila, was prepared to give his life for the members of the House of Representatives that morning as Dr Baba reminded him that what was transpiring was illegal.

As the armed men shouted to Dr Kurisaqila to ask MPs to be still lest they were shot, Dr Kurisaqila replied: "If you have to shoot anybody, you have to shoot me first".

Muacavu described how she and other colleagues were told to lie down on the floor of Parliament House with the Indo-Fijian members of the Labour Coalition Government until Sunday morning.

"Sir, I was scared, shocked and stunned and I will never forget that for the rest of my life," she said.

Also tendered were damning evidence against Silatolu with videotapes of two press conferences Speight and his followers conducted in adjoining Parliamentary offices later that morning.

His election to become the group's Prime Minister and subsequent speech about the cause of the takeover plans to abrogate the Constitution and suppressing foreigners in Fiji were all caught on Fiji Television tapes, now tendered as exhibits.

The trial continues in Suva next week.



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 based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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