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Judge Defers Journalist Treason Case Sentencing

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SUVA (RNZI/FijiLive/Pacific Media Watch): The judge hearing the treason trial of Fiji coup conspirators Josefa Nata, a journalist, and former MP Timoci Silatolu has deferred sentencing until next week, Radio New Zealand International reports.

Justice Andrew Wilson says the High Court will be adjourned until Tuesday to consider sentencing.

Yesterday, the five assessors - jurors - reached a unanimous verdict of guilty on both accused and the judge agreed with the guilty ruling.

The two were convicted of conspiring to overthrow the lawfully elected government in May 2000, taking and detaining the government members hostage by force of arms, and purporting to form an illegal administration.

They have also been convicted of unlawfully purporting to abrogate the constitution, of unlawfully participating in the swearing in of an interim government and of breaching the duty of allegiance they owed to the lawful government.

The maximum penalty for treason in Fiji is now life imprisonment after Parliament abolished the death penalty for it last year.

The new law came into effect after the coup front man George Speight¹s sentence of death for treason was immediately commuted to a life term.

The Daily Post on FijiLive reports: After more than four months of trial and two days of deliberations, the five assessors were unanimous in their decision in the High Court in Suva that Nata and Silatolu had committed the gravest crime that anybody could commit against the land of their birth.

In court yesterday, minutes before the assessors delivered their decision, they requested transcripts of the seven witnesses in Nata¹s case, including that of Nata himself.

This was denied by Justice Wilson who opted instead to read out the transcripts to them.

Nata and Silatolu were charged with treason after they, together with George Speight and other personnel, between May 19 and July 27 in 2000, conspired to overthrow the Labour Government.

They were charged with a number of overt acts that amounted to treason:

* Nata and Silatolu with George Speight and others between May 19 and July in 2000 at the Parliament Complex at Veiuto, in Suva, unlawfully by force of arms, seized and detained as hostages deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and members of the House of Representatives with the intent to overthrow the lawful Government;

* Between May 19 and 27, 2000, the accused unlawfully purported to form an illegal Government variously styled as the "Interim Government" or "Taukei Civilian Government" in the attempt to overthrow the lawful Government;

* Between May 19 and 27, 2000, Nata and Silatolu unlawfully purported to abrogate by legislative decree in the name of the "Interim Government" the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of the Fiji Islands;

* Nata and Silatolu, together with Speight and others, on several occasions between May 19 and 27 2000 unlawfully purported to legislate by various decrees, in the name of the "Interim Government" or "Taukei Civilian Government" by the authority of Speight as "Taukei Civilian Takeover Leader" or Silatolu as "Interim Prime Minister" or "Prime Minister";

* Between May 19 and 21, 2000, together with Speight and others unlawfully facilitated and participated in the swearing-in of the members of the "Interim Government";

* Between May 19 and 27 2000, Nata and Silatolu, together with Speight and others, unlawfully fomented support for the unlawful "Interim Government" by the high-profile and public dissemination of communications for and on behalf of the "Interim Government", intended to generate publicity for, and/or acceptance and/or resources for the unlawful regime, and,

* The two accused on dates between May 19 and 27 in 2000 unlawfully breached the allegiance owed to the lawful Government of the Republic of the Fiji Islands.

After the announcement of the verdict, Nata and Silatolu¹s lawyers, Alexander Wolf and Sevuloni Valenitabua, expressed relief that the trial was finally over - their clients had had their say.

Wolf said he was glad Nata had stated his case. However, he was disappointed that the case had taken so long.

"I am disappointed with the verdict and disappointed with the fact that the case took so long, and that they had been in jail for almost three years," Wolf said.

* Before Nata joined Speight at the time of the attempted coup as a media adviser, he had been a prominent investigative journalist, editor and publicist. Until 1999, he had been the training coordinator of the now defunct media industry backed Fiji Journalism Institute (FJI). +++niuswire


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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