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Journalist, Politician Jailed For Life For Treason

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SUVA (FL/DP/FT/Pacific Media Watch): One of Fiji's most prominent journalists, Josefa Nata, and rebel politician Timoci Silatolu have been sentenced to life imprisonment by the High Court for their roles in the 2000 attempted coup , FijiLive reports.

Justice Andrew Wilson ruled today that Silatolu has to serve nine years and Nata seven years before they can be released from prison.

He said their sentence for treason was appropriate as their crime was the highest offence in the land.

The 45-year-old Nata, coup frontman George Speight's "media minder", was a leading investigative journalist in recent years.

He was publisher of the defunct Weekender and was training coordinator of the failed local media industry's Fiji Journalism Institute. Nata and Silatolu have been waiting for two months to be sentenced since they were convicted for treason in March.

FijiLive reported that Justice Wilson had said little separated the pair from Speight as they pursued his cause passionately.

Speight was sentenced to death in January 2002 for treason but this was reduced to life imprisonment.

Justice Wilson said Silatolu was more active in the coup and had received a higher sentence than his accomplice Nata who was active in the background.

In conclusion, Justice Wilson said Fiji had had too many coups and that such overthrows of governments should be stopped as it made a mockery of the constitution.

The Fiji Times reported today that Nata had expressed regret and apologised to the people of Fiji for his involvement in the coup.

Nata told the High Court yesterday that the coup was used to push the agenda of indigenous rights.

"My action was not justified because it broke the rule of law," he said.

"We should learn to respect the rule of law and it is through the rule of law that we should pursue our aspirations.

I regret the things I've been convicted of and I realise that the events of May has no justification."

Nata also told the court that his father, now deceased, had refused to talk to him because of his involvement in the coup.

"It was seen as being disrespectful to our chief [Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara] who at the time was the president [of Fiji]."

Nata's lawyer, Anil Singh, said his client was not part of the deliberate planning to take over Parliament.

"At no time can it be said that he was armed - carrying a weapon - or assaulted anyone.

"The offence was uncharacteristic of my client," said Singh, adding "the time for vengeance is over and the country is healing".

Singh said the sentence passed by the court "should not be such that it will make him a very old person when he comes out of prison".



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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