Aftermath of the 2000 Fijian coup d'état
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|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
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|History of Fiji|
|Coup of 2000|
|Proposed Reconciliation Commission|
|Crisis of 2005–06|
|Coup of 2006|
The Constitution of Fiji, which had been abrogated by the interim military government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama (who organized a counter-coup to neutralize the civilian coup d'état instigated by George Speight in May 2000), was reinstated by the High Court on 15 November that year. This ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeal on 1 March 2001. Since then, a police investigation has begun (though it has proceeded too slowly for the satisfaction of some critics[who?]), and a number of high-profile trials have taken place, resulting in the conviction and imprisonment of some members of the present government, which came to power in the wake of the coup.
It was announced on 2 May 2005 that 2499 people had been implicated to date in offences related to the coup. Eleven out of 24 alleged plotters had been tried, along with six executors of the coup. Of 21 alleged financial supporters, none had been dealt with, and investigations were still in progress. On 21 September, Home Affairs Minister Josefa Vosanibola announced that 556 people had been tried either thorough the justice system or by court martial. He rejected a call from Labour MP Ganesh Chand to name them, however, saying that many were either serving or had served their sentences, and that to name them would breach their privacy. 120 soldiers had been tried – 56 for their roles in the coup, 28 for the Sukanaivalu mutiny, and 38 for the Suva mutiny on 2 November 2000. He said that there were currently 208 cases pending before the Director of Public Prosecutions. The charges ranged from unlawful assembly and public order breaches to murder, sedition, and treason; apart from a few who were acquitted for lack of evidence, most had been convicted, Vosanibola said.
A number of separate, but overlapping, investigations have been conducted by the police into various aspects of the 2000 coup. Some of these investigations are ongoing as of 2005. These investigations include the organization and financing of the coup, and the identity of the perpetrators. Some have alleged that George Speight was only a front-man for a shadowy group of politicians and businessmen; former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka is reported to be one of those under investigation.
Other cases being investigated include the removal of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara from the Presidency and the installation of an Interim Military Government by the Military Commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, and an alleged plot to remove the subsequently appointed President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo.
Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes revealed on 4 January 2006 that a total of seven major investigations related to the coup were in progress, with four offices assigned to them full-time. Three files had been reopened, he said, following allegations made by Maciu Navakasuasua, a coup-convict, and Josaia Waqabaca, a self-declared party to the planning of the coup.
Controversial trials and verdicts
A number of prominent participants in the coup have been tried, and some convicted, in 2004 and 2005. Many of those tried have links to the present government, which has come under criticism from some quarters for releasing on parole some of the persons convicted.
Reconciliation commission proposed
Prime Minister Qarase announced on 4 May 2005 that the government would establish a "Reconciliation and Unity Commission" empowered to recommend amnesty for persons involved in the coup, provided that their motive had been "political" and that they had not done so with "criminal intent." Opposition Leader Chaudhry condemned the proposed Commission, alleging that it would be a cover for pardoning members of the present government who were implicated in the coup. Chaudhry insisted that one set of rules should apply to everyone, regardless of their position in society, and regardless of their motives for having broken the law. He was supported by National Alliance Party president Ratu Epeli Ganilau and by United Peoples Party leader Mick Beddoes. Ganilau said that the notion that politically motivated crimes could be justified was "insulting to the intelligence of ordinary people," and that it represented a naive and uncaring attitude toward the hurt suffered by many during the 2000 coup. "The intention to bring a closure to investigations and litigation regarding the 2000 coup would be a severe interference of politics into the work of law enforcement in this country," Ganilau said. On 18 May, he added that he saw "nothing reconciliatory about the bill," which he believed to be aimed at legalizing the Muanikau Accord, which had been proposed by George Speight in 2000. "To use the word reconciliation is a gross violation of the rights of everyone in this nation," he said. Beddoes, for his part, called the proposal a recipe for disaster which would license any would-be political activist who wanted to engage in coups, to do so. He accused the government of kow-towing to its junior coalition partner, the Conservative Alliance, on which it depends for its parliamentary majority, in order to keep them on board until the next parliamentary election, expected for 2006. On 7 May, Adi Koila Nailatikau added her own voice to the opposition to the commission, saying that if her father were alive, he would not approve of interfering with the course of justice, and that unless all perpetrators of the coup were brought to justice, "Fiji cannot put to rest the ghosts of the coup." Yet another opponent of the proposal is Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who has called the bill "Reconciliation bull."
Expulsion of Ridgeway
On 3 May 2005, the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Peter Ridgeway, resigned in protest against political interference in the judicial system, namely the early release of prisoners. On 20 June, he was ordered to leave Fiji and return to his native Australia after Prime Minister Qarase vetoed a two-month extension of his contract. Ridgeway had been responsible for a number of high-profile prosecutions, and opposition politicians thought that his dismissal and expulsion were politically motivated.
Speaking on ABC Radio Australia, Attorney-General Qoriniasi Bale said that it was the government's prerogative to decide on the employment of foreign workers in the civil service. Ridgeway's contract had been for a fixed term and had already expired. "It was subject to renewal at the option of the employer," Bale said. "It is not at his option or the option of any other person who may support him or whatever else." He denied that there was anything sinister about refusing Ridgeway the requested two-month contract extension to complete cases he had been working on.
Ridgeway's expulsion was condemned by Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry and by United Peoples Party leader Mick Beddoes, who claimed that the decision motivated by Ridgeway's prosecution of persons close to the government. He said that "two very prominent figures" were among those being pursued by Ridgeway; he did not name them, but one is believed to be former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka. Beddoes predicted that these cases would "now gather dust."
On 23 June, Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes said he hoped that Ridgeway's expulsion would not affect the investigations and prosecutions underway. The Australian High Commission in Suva also said that it had been in touch with Fiji's Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the matter. It did not give details. Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola was "too busy" to comment at the immediately, but later said that he had discussed the affair with Australia's High Commissioner, Jennifer Rawlins. Relations with Australia, he said, would have to go on despite the "unfortunate" circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Ridgeway in what he called "a one-off situation." He did not believe the controversy would tarnish Fiji's image.
The Military commander, Commodore Bainimarama, reacted angrily to Ridgeway's expulsion, saying on 25 June that it would seriously hinder investigations, which would have to start all over again. Ridgeway himself concurred. "There is nobody in the DPP’s office who has the knowledge of the coup cases that I do," he said. "And the reason for that is obvious: I have had an instrumental role in each and every coup case; I know it backwards. Nobody knows it as well as I do. For somebody to read into those sort of cases would be a six months job."
Bainimarama further alleged that Ridgeway was "almost closing in on" some major perpetrators of the coup when he was ordered to leave.
Forty-nine parliamentarians from the Fiji Labour Party and their People's Coalition partners in the 1999–2000 government have been suing George Speight and co-conspirator Timoci Silatolu for compensation. Former Police Commissioner Isikia Savua, whom the late President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara accused in his last recorded interview of involvement in the coup, is being sued also. The plaintiffs have been ordered by the court to cover the travel expenses of Savua, who is now Fiji's Ambassador to the United Nations in New York.
It was announced on 25 July 2005 that the hearing had been postponed to 12 August.
In addition, former Prime Minister Chaudhry, along with some others who were held as hostages during the coup crisis (including his son Rajendra), are preparing to sue the government for what they say was Military and Police negligence. They allege that the Military and Police knew that a coup was likely, and did nothing about it. "They did not take the necessary steps to insulate the Prime Minister, Government Ministers, Parliamentarians and other staff against the threats," said Rajendra Chaudhry."As a result of their negligence, I had to endure physical torture and psychological trauma and am seeking compensation for these and related matters." On 15 August, Rajendra announced that he was suing for F$500,000, to cover loss of superannuation, medical expenses, and loss of future earnings. He said that his lawsuit was separate from his father's.
A pre-trial conference for the lawsuit laid by the Fiji Labour Party will be held in the High Court on 9 September. Lawyer Vipul Misha is representing both Mahendra and Rajendra Chaudhry, as well as Dr Ganesh Chand, Giyannendra Prasad, Anand Singh, and the estate of Muthu Sami. A Queens Counsel has been asked to join the team.
On 31 August, Justice Gerard Winter decided to adjourn until 30 September the hearing of the lawsuit of former FLP parliamentarians Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi and Gaffar Ahmed, after defence lawyer Akuila Naco asked for more time to prepare his case.
On 15 September, Justice Winter set 14 October for Mahendra Chaudhry's compensation trial to begin. He refused a request from Timoci Silatolu's lawyer for a Military investigation into the 2000 upheaval to be made public, after the Military lawyer claimed Military privilege.
Speight and his co-defendants appeared in Court on 27 January 2006 for a preliminary hearing, pending the full hearing scheduled for 1 May.