Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fiji pensions: 'Osama, put that gun down'

THE GREAT pension saga in Fiji has drawn a satirical response from one of Café Pacific's regular readers - "Sas". This follows a news item that revealed a rather vindictive response from the Fiji regime towards founding coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka (not content with one coup, he pulled off two in 1987 - four months apart). Rabuka's government pension was cut off. The Citizens' Constitutional Forum warned that stopping pensions was an abuse of power and a violation of International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. (Cartoon: Kaciwasa)

Open letter to the Prime Minister, 7 February 2010

Dear Commodore Bainimarama,

I am writing to you in great distress, as I fear that both my pension of $60 a month and my child’s education are in jeopardy because of my failure to be a good person and I beg your forgiveness.

It began the other day when my five-year-old son Osama asked if he could come and shop with me in town. I said “Yes” to him and Osama seemed so happy. We were going to Rups Store in Suva, as there my small salary seems to be worth more than in Proud’s Duty Free Shop.

We arrived in Rups luxurious store and Osama asked me to buy him something. My money was limited and I said “No” to his repeated cries. Without my consent he took something from a shelf.

I immediately told him he had to put the object back, which I noticed was a plastic toy gun. My son began to defy me so I had to raise my voice. I said in a clear strong voice: “Osama, put that gun down”.

I wished I had never said those words. The whole shop stopped. People threw themselves on the floor. Men screamed and others began to pray. Within seconds a platoon of soldiers rushed into the store firing guns in all directions. It was dreadful to watch the horror unfolding before my eyes at the bullets hitting cups, saucers and shooting holes in saris.

The staff on duty were terrified. One officer shouted out, “Where is he?” A teenage shop assistant dried her tears and pointed at Osama. Six soldiers jumped on my four-year-old son, held him down and called for re-enforcements. An army officer came into the room and took control.

“Remove his gun,” screamed the officer. Six soldiers twisted Osama’s arm to get the gun. He was so angry and kept screaming: “I want a gun, I want a gun."

The gun was finally wrested away from Osama and the officer asked him for his name and address. He became stubborn and refused to talk. The officer looked at me and asked if I was his father. I nodded and was immediately stripped naked in the shop and searched for guns, bombs or weapons of mass destruction imported from Australia or New Zealand through their High Commissions.

Fortunately, I had none, as I am a poor man and I have never left Suva.

All the army officer could find was my pension book. It was taken away from me. The officer who looked at it, snapped at me: “We will keep this. We know how to deal with you”.

I felt distressed and asked if I could leave. I was then given permission to go home.

The first question as I entered my front door was from my wife, asking why Osama was not with me. It was only then I remembered I had left him behind. So I went back to Rups Store, but he was gone.

I noticed that they already had a large sale sign up saying damaged cup and saucers and saris were being sold at a special cheap price. It was a golden opportunity to get a bargain, so I bought my wife a sari with bullet holes in it.

I knew that she would be able to repair it and wear it on Fiji Independence Day to celebrate the progress of Fiji towards freedom and wealth for all.

I went home feeling happy that I had a bargain that would make my hardworking wife happy. But she said I had bought the wrong colour sari and she again asked where Osama was.

I returned to Rups Store to look for Osama. He had been taken to the Queen Elizabeth army barracks. Immediately I went there and was placed under armed guard. I was strip searched again for weapons of mass destruction and then led through several corridors to the cell where Osama was being I interrogated. I could hear him screaming: “No, no, no."

He was wild and was refusing to answer questions. Whenever a soldier waved a gun in front at him to make him talk, he began screaming: “I want that gun, I want that gun”.

Two colonels were conducting the investigation, but it was no use. Osama was obstinate.

Many hours later when it was dark I was allowed to take Osama home with the words of the colonels echoing in my ears: “We will fix both you and him, bro.”

We got home and fed Osama, put him to bed and I comforted my wife. Late that night I thought of what else I could do to ask you, my Commodore, my appointed leader, to forgive Osama for his actions. My wife and I decided to make Osama write a letter of apology for his actions. We would then send it to the newspapers to be published.

In the morning, Osama was in a good mood as he had slept well and he began writing the letter. This pleased his mother and me. When the letter was finished we could not read it as we are both illiterate, and our hopes for the future are with little Osama.

The letter was duly published but I regret that I have to apologise for what he said. Instead of writing “Dear Sir” at the start of the letter, he wrote “Dear Cur”. Please forgive him this spelling mistake, he is a small boy. He also said you were a “great free loader” when he meant to say “great Fiji leader”

It appears your media “minders” at the newspapers did not pick up the errors.

I beg of you to return my pension, which I use to feed myself, Osama, my wife and 20 other relatives who cannot find paid work. The pension also pays for Osama’s education.

To deprive me of my pension, because of my small son’s actions, means that we will join the almost one hundred thousand squatters living in squalor between Vatuwaqa and Nausori. When I asked the squatters in Vatuwaqa if we join them, they told us to go away as the army had promised them work and new homes if they just kept making people chatter.

I think they mean the People’s Charter.

I humbly request the return of my pension to feed my family and to buy Osama a school bag. He is my future, I want him to have a good education and a job when he grows up so that he may never again address you as “Dear Cur”.

With affection for your promises.




Radio Australia, 22 January 2010:
Former Fiji PM's vehicle confiscated, pension cut

Former Fiji prime minister and coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka, has had his government pension cancelled by the interim government.

That man who staged Fiji's first ever coup in 1987 has had his benefits taken off him, including a government-supplied four wheel drive vehicle, which was confiscated from him on the spot.

Last week the interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, announced that Fiji pensioners who criticise his government will have their pensions stopped.

Mr Rabuka told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat programme he had to walk an hour back to his village when the soldiers who brought him a letter about his pension being stopped took his vehicle while he was out picking coconuts.

Citizens' Constitutional Forum media release, 13 January 2010:
Stopping pension an abuse of power and violation of ILO Conventions

The Interim Government will be committing acts of abuse of power and misuse of funds, as well as violating International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions if it passes a decree to stop pension payments to its critics, says the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF).

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama revealed in the daily news today that this decree was passed last week, however, the decree has not yet become available to the public, and rumours are it is yet to be created

NB. Commodore Bainimarama approved the draft of the People’s Charter in December 2008 with the eleven key pillars for Fiji’s future development.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fiji blog cops a blast over 'treason' law makeover misrepresentation

BLOG COUPFOURPOINTFIVE has had its credibility challenged over a report claiming any "Negativity against regime treated as treason". The shallow item was attributed in the first paragraph to "sources". Former University of the South Pacific development studies academic Crosbie Walsh, whose own Fiji blog is increasingly looked to for informed and accurate analysis, has condemned the website, run by journalists, for misrepresentation. The original "treason" blog posting has now had a hasty title change to "New Criminal decree brings worry". (But the blog also later partially made amends by adding a rather more informative posting about the "sedition and incitement" clauses as well as treason.) Read on...

Negativity is Treason: Blog Misunderstands or Deliberately Distorts New Crime Decrees

By Crosbie Walsh

The story posted by the anti-government blogger Coupfourpointfive under the heading "Any Negativity Against Regime Treated as Treason" is factually incorrect and, one must assume, deliberately misleading. I consider this the most blatantly biased, damaging -- but most easily refutable -- release so far by Coup4.5. Their general credibility is now in serious doubt.

If the mainstream print and radio media report this blog story without first checking the facts against Fiji's old and new laws, they are a party to the blogger's action, whether intended or not. Sloppy journalism becomes a weapon in politically delicate situations.

Coup 4.5 reports that "one part of the decree limits what the Fiji media can report on a criminal case". The inference is that this is a new provision, limiting freedom of the press. This is not so.

The provision of the Criminal Procedure Decree prohibits reporting on criminal cases "until the conclusion of the trial" (section 201). It applies only to offences to be tried before the High Court such as rape and murder. And the provision is identical to section 236 of the repealed Criminal Procedure Code that has been Fiji law since about 1948.

The blog then states: "Under subsection 65 Part 2 individuals and NGO's criticising Frank Bainimarama's regime are deemed to have committed treason and this is punishable by life imprisonment."

In fact, section 65 of the new Decree is section 65 of the old Penal Code, which defined a seditious (sic!) intention as an intention, inter alia, to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Fiji. Section 66 of the old Penal Code created the offence inter alia of "printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, or reproducing any seditious publication" which offence was punishable with two years imprisonment and/or a fine of $200 on a first offence and three years on a subsequent conviction.

So the offence in the decree is not new and arguably blogsites which promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between classes of the population have already been guilty of the old section 66! Only the name and the penalty has changed. The offence is now called "inciting communal antagonism" and the maximum penalty is now 10 years imprisonment. The offence is not called treason.

Treason is a separate offence under section 64 and it re-enacts the old common law definition of treason - as used in the trials of Timoci Silatolu and George Speight [pictured above]. It includes acts of killing the President or the Prime Minister or causing them harm and also includes levying war against Fiji. In fact, the new definition adds nothing to the common law definition of treason, nor does it dilute it.

Last year's Abrogation of the 1997 Constitution made it necessary to replace laws existing under the Constitution. For the most part, the decrees that replace them replicate, clarify and update the old laws. No new "draconian" sections have been added.

Readers wishing to read the new Crime Decree and Criminal Procedure Decree may click on these links to Mediafire, and download them from there.

The Media Decree is still being drafted.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

PNG pipeline clash story - tribal feud or Exxon whitewash?

A READER has picked up on the remarkably contradictory reports by local Papua New Guinean news media linking a bloody feud between Southern Highlands tribes with tension over profit-sharing about the $15 billion gasfield and international media coverage - reported far from the conflict area, and downsizing the development conflict issue. He noted the contrast between one story from the front page of the Post-Courier, blaming the royalties tensions over the liquefied natural gasfield and pipeline, and a Radio Australia item, saying it was "lonstanding tribal dispute". (This RA report was also filed by a PNG journalist while other news agencies later carried even stronger ExxonMobil denials of profit-sharing problems):
...two stories on the same topic. And they remain two very different stories.
The lack of coverage in the next few days didn't make the situation any clearer. Café Pacific believes that the influence of the Exxon publicity machine had a lot to do with the international wire service "playdown" stories, conveniently cashing in on the hasty police statements. Take your pick:

Version # 1: Post-Courier, 25 January 2010
Raid said to be caused by tension from benefits agreement

By Mohammad Bashir

Eleven people were gunned down in an early morning raid on Pawale village in the PDL4 area of the PNG LNG project in Southern Highlands.

As a result, the government and developers have been given 48 hours to step in and restore order.

In a gang style attack, four groups of young men from the neighbouring Imawe Bogasi clan armed with high powered guns reportedly staged the raid, killing 11 young men and injuring many villagers.

Hundreds of women and children who fled are unaccounted for after 270 houses and other properties were destroyed.

Southern Highlands provincial police commander, Superintendent Jimmy Onopia last night confirmed the fighting but he could not provide details of the deaths and destruction to properties.

Pawale village in Simberigi,
Erave district in the Southern Highlands Province was a home to the Toroko, Haukerake and Ase Tipupurupeke clans.

The raid was believed to be in retaliation for the killing of an Imawe Bogasi clansman before the December Licensed Based Benefit Sharing Agreement (LBBSA) forum.

Spokesman for the Tipurupeke clan, Steven Paglipari, confirmed the killings yesterday, saying the situation on the ground was tense.

During the LBBSA, Pawale villagers of PDL4, who were the principal landowners, did not take part in the forum because of threats and intimidation.

Pawale council president Max Apua said the Bogasis refused K5000 and 14 pigs given two weeks ago as "bel kol" at a mediation ceremony chaired by Erave's first judge Justice Nemo Yalo.

Justice Yalo appealed to the warring clans to put their differences aside.

Moloko Tiburua Peke, ILG chairman Apiko Pelipe and Mr Apua called on the government and the developers to step in immediately and address the situation.

Speaking on behalf of the six clans of Pawale, Mr Apua said they would not hesitate to take the law into their own hands if the Government and the oil and LNG developers failed.

An updated version of the above story was carried by Pacific Scoop.

Version #2: Radio Australia, 25 January 2010
Eleven people have been reportedly gunned-down in the Papua New Guinea highlands over a longstanding tribal dispute.

Police in the Southern Highlands say they lack the resources and manpower to go and stop it, or prevent more casualties.

The province houses gas fields that will form PNG's Liquefied Natural Gas project, and the project's lead developer, Exxon Mobil says they are monitoring the situation very closely.

But PNG's Southern Highlands Police Commander, Jimmy Onopia, says the fight is between two tribal groups in the Erave district over the death of a villager from one of the waring tribes.

Presenter: Firmin Nanol

Speaker: Jimmy Onopia, PNG's South
ern Highlands Police Commander

Some other items:

Deadly PNG clash not linked to LNG project: police (AFP)
Exxon Says PNG violence tribal, not related to its LNG venture (Bloomberg)
ExxonMobil denies links to PNG deaths (Sydney Morning Herald)
ExxonMobil says clash in PNG had no link to LNG project (Radio NZ International)
PNG LNG 'not linked to clash' (Upstream Online)

Meanwhile, the mystery woman who posed as a human rights lawyer in the daring "great escape" when 12 hardened criminals broke out of Bomana prison earlier this month, has been described by police as "a beauty" (identikit picture). And warders were so gob-smacked that they were "distracted" from their usual jail screening protocols.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

PNG jailbreak media fallout as police detain 3 warders

JACOB POK reports in The National three Correctional Services officers have been charged over the "great escape" of a dozen of Papua New Guinea's toughest criminals, including bank robber William Kapris (pictured). The three warders were taken to Boroko Police Station, charged under sections 138 and 140 of the PNG criminal Code over helping the January 12 escape from the Bomana maximum security prison and locked up for further questioning yesterday. But hopefully this is not another PNG cover-up where the small fry take the rap for doing the bidding of top political masters.

National Capital District metropolitan commander Superintendent Fred Yakasa said police believed the three officers had breached all security procedures of the CS. He added at a media conference: “We believe it is a planned thing, as there was a clear breach of security.

"The officers know very well that they cannot act upon orders from elsewhere unless it’s from the three [legal] authorities ” - deputy Correctional Services Commissioner (Operations), Correctional Services Commissioner, or a National Court judge.

Police are offering a reward of K10,000 for the capture, or information that could lead to the capture of the 12 fugitives.

Meanwhile, Nau FM news director Titi Gabi gives an insight on Pacific Scoop into the continuing fallout for media over the jailbreak - her twin radio stations were threatened for scooping the story and running with it. The PNG Media Council warned other media to be ready for similar threats - such as one to blow up the PNG FM offices:
Our alerts and breaking stories were linked up on both stations, NAU FM and YUMI FM. Full reports ran at midday and the alerts continued. By mid-afternoon, one caller gave us a rather "friendly" warning about the possibility of attacks from the criminals and their mates. This was a female caller.

On Wednesday, a senior woman leader declined to comment and warned us of possible repercussions and to leave the story alone. By then, we had instructed reception to screen all news calls.

On Thursday, at about 7am- 8am, a male called threatened to blow up our office and attack staff and the company vehicle.
I had a meeting with the news team and reminded them gently of the role of the media while also being vigilant.

“We will continue to report what must be reported,” I said.

How sad that they target us as as the media but that is expected in this job. Internal security measures swung into action and my young team was reminded to report “without fear or favour”.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pacific focus for World Press Freedom Day 2010

UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day 2010 is coming to the South Pacific for the first time. It is being hosted at Australia's University of Queensland. The university's School of Journalism and Communication is organising the conference on May 2 and 3. The conference website, launched this week, says:
"Great is Truth, And Mighty Above All Things" is the wording above the main entrance to the Forgan Smith Building at the University of Queensland. These words fit well with the theme of this year's conference, which is "Freedom of Information: the Right to Know".

Access to a free press, the right of journalists to go about their work unhindered and the enjoyment of freedom of expression by the citizenry are all key elements of a democracy. Journalists and media professionals from around the world will come to Brisbane this May to discuss threats to the independence of the media and to celebrate the importance of free and fearless journalism.
The website is rather bare at the moment, apart from a media freedom slide show. But early bird registration is open and a lot of information will go up in the next few days..

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bus passenger's graphic pictures of PNG tragedy

FORGET the inane NZ Transport Agency safety advertising campaign on New Zealand television – or anywhere else for that matter. A series of tragic and disturbing photos taken by a young “citizen journalist” at the scene of Papua New Guinea’s reportedly worst bus accident this week is a grim warning. Two 25-seater buses collided head on in the Highlands Highway in the Markham Valley heading towards Lae. They were travelling about 100 kph according to witnesses, and the carnage left at least 43 dead. Samson Nelaho, a resident of Kainantu, missed out on the ill-fated Highlands bus and jumped onto one leaving a few minutes later. He had a digital camera with him and captured several graphic images of the crash scene, some being published by both the Post-Courier and The National. His story and those of survivors such as Gideon Jack (pictured below) have also been featured in both papers. Samson says: "Some were trapped in the crushed buses and we tried to free them but couldn't so we had to leave them."

The shocking accident stressed out the morgue staff at Angau Hospital who were already running short of of space and awaited delivery of two more freezer containers. The morgue’s freezer was already accommodating six bodies from a plane crash and eight prison escapees who had been shot.

Café Pacific
thanks Malum Nalu of The National for alerting us and his help for Pacific Scoop coverage.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kuka killing prompts calls for reining in Timor police

TEMPO SEMANAL has posted a compelling video on the death of popular musician Baldir Cesar do Nascimento "Kuka" Lebre Correia in East Timor, allegedly shot dead by an off-duty local policeman. The killing of this 25-year-old man on December 28 has been a tragedy for the Lebre family and the Timorese people. It has also prompted calls for the disarming of Timorese police and raised questions about the success of the Australian training of Timorese police. The United Nations is investigating the killing. As Keta Haluha notes on Global Voices:
It is bitter irony that Kuka survived the Santa Cruz massacre as a seven-year-old in 1991. During this event 200-300 protesters were gunned down and killed at a funeral procession for another young man, killed by the police of the occupying power - President Suharto's Indonesia. Having survived this ordeal and living to see independence from Indonesia, Kuka fell victim to his own community's police service.
Kuka was highly popular and his shooting has sparked a wave of grief and anger. Halulu also points out:
In a strange twist of fate, Kuka is the nephew of Francisco Guterres, Secretary of State for Security - the politician responsible for the police.

Photo: Kuka, Global Voices.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

KKK cartoon fallout in Oz exposes rightist party

WHILE an Indian cartoonist has defended his controversial lampooning of the Australian police as Ku Klux Klan extremists amid a hostile reaction from Ocker media followers, a Klansman claims his movement has infiltrated a political party.

The cartoonist, Prasad, of Delhi's Mail Today, depicted an Aussie police badge pinned to a character with the notorious pointed white hood of the KKK following a controversy over race-based treatment of Indian students and a murder.

The speech bubble reads: "We are yet to ascertain the nature of the crime".

It was published as an indictment of homicide investigators in Victoria "being unable to say if the recent killing of 21-year-old Indian student Nitin Garg in a Melbourne park was racially motivated", reports A mixture of grief and anger marked Garg's funeral at the weekend.

The website quoted Prasad as saying: "I was responding to the news about the Australian authorities and police refusing to acknowledge the underlying racism in the attacks against Indian youth."

Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald has revealed that the Ku Klux Klan says it has infiltrated an anti-immigration party preparing to contest seats at the next federal election. The paper reports:
David Palmer, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in Australia, said several Klan members had secretly joined Australia First, a far right party that announced yesterday that it had the numbers to register as a political party.

"We aren't interested in actually registering as a party," Mr Palmer said. "Our main idea was we would move in and take back what we consider our Aryan parties.

"[The Klan] is a white pressure group; a white social group for white families. But also a reserve in case the
ethnics get out of hand and they need sorting out."

When he made similar claims about the infiltration of One Nation, the party formerly led by Pauline Hanson, two of his associates were expelled from the party. The NSW director of Australia First, Jim Saleam, vehemently denies his party has been infiltrated by the Klan.
The Australian has condemned the caricature, saying in an editorial this is "no time for crude cartoons":
It is offensive and plain wrong, but the Indian cartoon depicting Victoria Police as akin to the Ku Klux Klan reveals the hysteria on the sub-continent over the safety of Indian nationals in Australia. Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard was right to condemn the cartoon in New Delhi's Mail Today. There is no evidence police are acting in other than a professional manner in attempting to solve crimes involving Indians.

Cartoon: Prasad, Mail Today.

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