Saturday, September 27, 2014

A permanent solution to the coup culture?

The election result was something of a foregone conclusion given the degree of control exercised by the erstwhile dictatorship over all aspects of political life. Draconian decrees restricting fundamental human rights such as freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press meant that opposition voices would have trouble being heard. Control over the news media was especially important for Frank Bainimarama to gain legitimacy as elected prime minister, and it was assured by intimidation of both Fiji TV and the Fiji Times under the Media Decree. The Fiji Sun and FBC, meanwhile, could be counted on for shameless cheerleading on behalf of the regime.

Scottish writer Andrew Fletcher (1655-1716) observed that “if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” That was back when ballads were the main means of spreading the news, which even 300 years ago was well understood as the key to forming public opinion. Now imagine if a politician could both control the news AND make all the laws of a nation. How would you like his chances at the polls? That was the situation in Fiji for almost eight years subsequent to Bainimarama’s 2006 coup. The only real surprise is that he didn’t take all 50 seats, as he boasted he would. That Sodelpa managed as many seats as it did speaks to the depth of indigenous outrage that will not be going away anytime soon.
The real question is whether Fiji could handle a genuine democracy with a free press, or if the country needs an über-authoritarian strongman like Bainimarama to keep control. Those who claim the latter is true point to the country’s history of coups dating back to 1987. Some blame the press for fomenting the 2000 coup, which on my reading of the record seems specious, at best. But the fact remains that Fiji’s two solitudes have shown they simply cannot play nicely enough together for a real democracy. Calls for an end to the “coup culture” that has bedeviled the country have perhaps been answered with a militarisation which has seen an elected government laced with army officers. Combined with restrictive decrees which amount to almost as much government control as during martial law, the result is perhaps a permanent state of coup which will indeed preclude future coups.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Let's make every day a blackout!

My two best days ever!

Election Day -1 = Thanksgiving?

In the classic 1997 Barry Levinson film Wag the Dog, a Washington, D.C. spin doctor played by Robert De Niro constructs a phony overseas entanglement just days before a national election in a bid to boost the re-election hopes of an incumbent president. The title of the film referred to something of secondary importance improperly taking on primary importance. In the study of political communication, this effect is known as priming. Intense media coverage of a subject can result in a candidate’s record in that area taking precedence in the minds of voters over more important issues, such as running the economy.

The evidence
Last week’s freeing of 45 peacekeepers held hostage in the Middle East was thus like manna from heaven for the Bainimarama regime, as their capture had fixated the nation almost more than the election. Could the junta’s Washington, D.C. spin doctor Qorvis Communications have had anything to do with the $20 million ransom reportedly paid by Qatar for their release? Qorvis has the bulk of its clients in the Middle East, including Qatar’s state broadcaster Al-Jazeera. A ransom of $20 million would be chump change to the oil-rich Qataris, and release of the Fijian peacekeepers would be of immense public relations value to the Fiji regime.

The junta thus blatantly milked its good fortune for all it was worth, declaring yesterday Thanksgiving in advance of today’s election. (Fiji time, of course.) As a 48-hour media blackout has supposedly descended on the nation in advance of polling, the news focus will thus have been on the ceremony at the national stadium. Nothing but warm fuzzy feelings will no doubt be felt toward the government, which could have been quite different had the peacekeepers not been released, or even worse been executed. Frank Bainimarama must feel doubly blessed, what with the apparently dismal performance of Sodelpa leader Ro Teimumu Kepa in the recent televised debate. Had the articulate NFP leader Biman Prasad been part of the proceedings, the outcome could have been considerably different. Expect Bainimarama to breeze to victory in the polls, but not quite by the unanimous margin he covets.

As for that media blackout, all is mostly quiet on the domestic front, if not on the blogs. Pacific Scoop reports that government broadcaster FBC ran ads for Fiji FIST within 48 hours of polling, in contravention of the Elections Decree, although they have now disappeared. “Several blogs, a Fiji news agency and many political parties have all apparently broken the rules online,” noted student journalist Thomas Carnegie from Auckland. “The potential breaches show the inability of the overwhelmed Fijian authorities to monitor the chaotic internet. They also raise questions about why the Elections Decree attempted to criminalise the online world over blackout breaches.”
Many blogs have also published commentaries that would seem to breach Section 118. Fiji Media Wars blogger Marc Edge posted a commentary yesterday heavily criticising Bainimarama. He wrote that Fijian authorities had little influence over the blogosphere. “The dictatorship thinks it can even prevent overseas media and blogs from reporting what it wants suppressed. This is proof that it can’t,” he added. FijiLeaks, published by investigative journalist Victor Lal, posted a comment that the media blackout was a “sinister ploy” to stop damaging information about Fiji First being revealed.
I’m not quite sure what Carnegie is referring to as “a commentary yesterday heavily criticising Bainimarama.” I instead posted two first-person accounts of beatings administered as part of what I described as “the regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the wake of military commander Frank Bainimarama seizing power in December 2006.” That’s hardly a political commentary. Perhaps they were referring to this bit of editorializing.
Events in Fiji have reached a point where many wish to speak out about what has gone on there for the past eight years. The climate of fear that has visited the country during Bainimarama’s reign of terror has prevented much of his abuse from going unreported. The question becomes, how much truth can come out in the next two days? 
That’s hardly political advocacy, however. I have never advocated for one party over another in Fiji. I take no position on Fiji politics. My only ambition is to give light to facts which have been suppressed. If those facts have political implications, then so be it. This is much different to New Zealand blogger Crosbie Walsh, who instead blatantly electioneered for Bainimarama yesterday in a clear breach of the Elections Decree. “I am saying vote FijiFirst and don’t waste your vote by voting for any any [sic.] of the minor parties,” wrote Croz, who obviously needs a copy editor. His update to a blog entry titled “What if I’m Wrong?”, which I and others pointed to as expressing doubts about the dictator, was defensive and obviously hurried, perhaps after a heated phone call from Suva. Croz even laced the comments section several times over with a further disclaimer.
To all discussants. Thank you for your comments. Several of you have said I expressed doubt about the Bainimrama goverment [sic.] and took this to mean I had changed my opinion. This is not correct. I am rarely, if ever, “certain” on any important issue, and often start from a position of doubt. I usually consider the likely motivations, causes and effects before making an assessment or judgment. Isn’t this what every intelligent person does? I wrote the UPDATE because the anti-Bainimarama blogs took what I consider to be an honest and upfront statement and ignored its main message which was vote FijiFirst. The only real alternative, SODELPA, will set Fiji back a decade.
Croz also deleted several of my comments to the effect that he was indeed wrong. Meanwhile he has left up vile threats such as this one: “Marc Edge, we are watching the arrivals into Fiji. Come if you dare. A wonderful welcome awaits you. You wont be able to sit down for a year. But then again, you will probably enjoy it. Just biding our time. Tick tick tick.” I guess that’s just proof that I’m on the right track and that the junta really is a vile, murderous lot. I have also been dropped from the Facebook group Friends of Fiji MEDIA for the crime of having posted links there to my latest blog entries. Group administrators are obviously concerned about penalties in the Elections Decree that provide for fines of up to $50,000 and prison sentences of up to 10 years in prison for violating the blackout. I havent been dropped from other Facebook groups, for some reason, such as the Fiji Democratic Forum or the Fiji Economic Forum, so I should be able to post a link to this blog entry in those groups. Does that mean economists and democrats are less concerned than media are about violating the Elections Decree? More likely it means there hasnt been the pressure applied to them that has obviously been applied to Fiji media.

Monday, September 15, 2014

And the hits just keep on comin'


That’s the only way to describe traffic to Fiji Media Wars in the past 24 hours. While this blog usually gets 150-200 pageviews a day, my posts of yesterday and today have resulted in more than 1,600 pageviews in the 24 hours just ended. (Blogger uses GMT to start and end a day for analytics purposes.) The highest-ever total until now was the day I blogged about Hosanna Kabakoro, who suffered at the hands of the woman-bashing dictator’s son, Meli Bainimarama. That day saw more than 700 pageviews, so the past 24 hours have been more than double that.

It just goes to show the interest in stories that cannot be told in Fiji media due to the Draconian decrees the junta has imposed on news media there. The dictatorship thinks it can even prevent overseas media and blogs from reporting what it wants suppressed. This is proof that it can’t.

Laisa Digitaki’s story

One of the stories you won’t see in Fiji’s well-controlled media is the story of the regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the wake of military commander Frank Bainimarama seizing power in December 2006. Suva businesswoman Laisa Digitaki, who was pregnant at the time, converted her office building into a pro-democracy shrine in the wake of the coup, but it was demolished by gunmen, whom Digitaki accused of being military personnel, although she was not present at the time. Ground floor windows were shattered and a television satellite dish was damaged. According to Wikipedia, Digitaki and a number of others protesting outside the Great Council of Chiefs venue in Suva on 21 December 2006 were arrested by the Military, which claimed that they had no permit for a protest. They were released on bail pending a court appearance on 29 January 2007, but Digitaki never appeared. When the magistrate was told she was in hiding and heard the reasons why, he declined to issue a warrant for her arrest. She was subsequently granted UN protection. Following is Digitaki’s story about what happened to her at Christmas 2006. It is not new, having been posted first on Fiji Village in February 2007 (link broken) and then on other blogs, but it is worth repeating and corroborates the story of Peter Waqavonovono, which FMW published yesterday.
BY THE RFMF ON DECEMBER 24th‑25th, 2006 
On Christmas Eve night of 24th December, 2006, a group of soldiers came to our home at 12 Kavika Place, Muanikau, Suva at around 11.20 pm in a rental car registration number LR627.
Members of the family who were at the property at that time were myself, Laisa Digitaki, my partner, Sitiveni Weleilakeba, our son, Mosese Qionibaravi (19), and three daughters, Susana Qionibaravi (17), Fiona Weleilakeba (13) and Natasha Weleilakeba (8). A security guard was also on duty. 
According to the guard, Marau Vakaloloma, of Matrix Security Company, the soldiers advised him through the closed electronic gate that they were there to take me to the camp. The guard told them to wait outside the gate so he could advise us. He rang the door bell which was answered and opened by our son Mosese. 
My partner Sitiveni, who was asleep with me heard the door chime and also went downstairs to the front door to check. 
He said the guard told him of the soldiers’ presence and he told our son to go back to his room and that he would talk to the soldiers. 
He walked over to the closed electronic gate and was informed by the soldiers that the order from their superior was to take me to the camp for interrogation. 
My partner then came back into the house, to our bedroom, and woke me up saying that a group of soldiers was outside waiting to take me away. 
I went downstairs in my sleeping gown and asked them why they wanted to take me at that ungodly hour. One of them said that I needed to be taken to the camp immediately. 
I told them that I needed to speak to my lawyers at Munro Leys as I wanted to be escorted by them too. 
The guy mentioned that I need not speak to my lawyers as it would only complicate matters and that they needed to take me peacefully and that I should not fear as they claimed that we were all related anyway. 
He also said that another group of soldiers was on their way and their job was to forcefully remove me from my home if I resisted. 
The gentleman who seemed to be their spokesman looked familiar to me as the SDL Nasinu Branch Secretary. I do not know his name. 
I asked their spokesman if I could change into decent clothes of which he said yes.
I went back to our bedroom and changed into a mustard Marcs three-quarter pants, a “Fiji Me” bright green round neck T‑Shirt, pink golf cap, and brown leather Hush Puppies slippers. 
Before I walked out of the house, I called my Munro Leys lawyer, Mr Richard Naidu, to advise him of what was happening. 
I then walked out peacefully and into the yellow rental car with the soldiers.
I was introduced by the spokesman to each of them and he mentioned that the one sitting on my left was from Vanuabalavu, Lau, and the one on my right was from Namosi. 
The Namosi lad looked like the person who headed the Namosi soldiers who presented an apology to Commodore Bainimarama for their part in the 2000 coup.
I do not know his name. 
The other two soldiers were calling him “Sir” so I can only assume that he is a high ranking officer. 
Their spokesperson did not elaborate on the driver, who was also an indigenous Fijian. 
They mentioned that they were also after Imrana Jalal, Virisila Buadromo and the rest of our pro-democracy youth group. 
Imrana’s home is two houses away from mine and I told them to leave her family alone and that there was no point in going to Imrana’s home since she was away overseas for business anyway. 
The four soldiers were very friendly and we were even cracking some jokes on our way to the camp. 
They said that most of the soldiers were SDL supporters and that I shouldn’t be afraid.
I told them that even-though I helped with the SDL election campaign, I was totally against most of the things they came up with soon after the election and that I was not supporting SDL but was doing what I was doing not for the restoration of the SDL government but for the restoration of democracy and law and order in Fiji. 
As we arrived at the camp, I was told to walk into a room situated on the left hand side of the main gate which I will call the guardhouse. 
The Namosi soldier gently requested that I hand over my cap, Sony Ericsson mobile phone and Raymond Weil watch, which I did. 
They told me to sit a while on a white plastic chair and after a few minutes, I was led into a passage way from where I was sitting and realised that they were cells. On my left, I noticed two young men asleep in the first cell in their underwear snoring and noticed another figure in the same cell but couldn't figure out whether it was a person as it was quite dark. 
On my right, I noticed my business partner, Imraz Iqbal, lying on his back on the cold cement in his red underwear. 
I greeted him before they locked me in the cell opposite Imraz’s. 
After a few minutes, they opened the cell again and led me further down to the last cell where they locked me up again. The cell was darker than the one before. An indigenous Fijian soldier in civilian clothing came to me and started accusing me of talking against the army takeover. 
He ordered that the mattress I was sitting on be removed so that I could sit on the cold cement floor. 
More indigenous Fijian soldiers walked over to my cell to peek with some saying their “bulas”' while the others did not utter a word. 
Overall, the soldiers at the guard house were pleasant and not intimidating except for that gentleman who was angry about my pro‑democracy stand. 
After about 20 minutes in the cell, the Namosi soldier came and freed me and asked if we could go together to get Pita Waqavonovono, another pro‑democracy advocate. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Fijian Christmas Story

Not everyone has a blog, although almost anyone can start a blog. It takes a while to build up a readership, however. You can see from the meter on the right that Fiji Media Wars has now passed 100,000 page views, which compared to many blogs is small potatoes. But I know FMW has a dedicated readership, and events in Fiji have reached a point where many wish to speak out about what has gone on there for the past eight years. The climate of fear that has visited the country during Bainimarama’s reign of terror has prevented much of his abuse from being reported. The question becomes, how much truth can come out in the next two days? Here is a first installment. There is no video, or else I am sure it would be much more impactful.
Frank was There 
By Peter Waqavonovono 
I want to share with you a short explanation of one of the reasons why I feel Frank Bainimarama cannot be allowed to run Fiji
I have seen the true face of Bainimarama’s leadership. I know many people in Fiji share the same experience as I do. 
Christmas Eve 2006, myself and other pro-democracy activists were taken from our homes late at night and brought to the QEB Military Camp under the guise of a meeting with the Military Council. What happened instead was an attack on all of us. 
When I was brought into the camp, there are two things that directly stood out for me. One is that all the lights in the QEB Camp were turned off and secondly was the overbearing smell of Alcohol. 
I recall the events of that night clearly. It involved soldiers punching and kicking us, and threatening to murder us. At one point, I was certain that I would not leave that place alive. 
Notable people at the QEB Military Camp that night were Frank Bainimarama, Roko Ului Mara and Pita Driti, all visible under the moonlight. Only a group of about 15 men were involved in the attack. While we were been attacked by a few soldiers in the army ground, I looked up to see Frank Bainimarama kicking and verbally abusing me. He called soldiers to come and drag me to the cricket pitch. On the cricket pitch soldiers were ordered by someone to run over us and I recall been told at this point to keep my head down. A soldier came to me and pulled me by the hair, and started cutting patches of my hair off. I was told that he would cut me up and throw me in the sea – that no one would care about me. 
During this assault, there were men singing Christmas Carols by the Ground and cheering on their peers. I also recall been ordered to run to Lami and take down banners at the Vugalei Democracy Shrine. While we ran, I was especially targeted by three soldiers who kept hitting and swearing at me. They later pinned me down, and proceeded to kick and punch me, they put me in a military truck and drove up towards Nadua Secondary School, where they literally threw me out of the moving Truck. 
At this point, another truck with a different set of soldiers, took me back to the Military Camp. A soldier in this Truck gave me water and asked for Apologies. He told me that not all soldiers were doing this and they were following orders ‘from the top’. When I reached the camp, I was hurried into a cell; and joined by 3 soldier who told me that Bainimarama was very angry with my comments. They proceeded to further torture me, trying to get me to promise to never speak out against Bainimarama. This point of the ordeal was very traumatic. Another soldier with the voice similar to Roko Ului intervened and told off the people in the cell, He ordered that the beatings stop, and after this they put me in a car and they drove me out towards Nabua Secondary School, where they asked me to get off. I recall been helped by two young boys from here, who took me to the Matua Taxi Base in Mead Road, where I got onto a Taxi and went straight home to a family that was clearly angered at what the Military had done.  
All soldiers that participated in the attack smelled of Alcohol. 
I was told that night, to leave Suva. I left on Boxing day for Levuka where I was informed by my Family that someone had sent soldiers to my house in Suva, to take me in for another meeting. I was later on informed via the media that I was put on a travel ban. 
I recall thinking to myself, that if these men with Guns feared a young person’s mouth or opinions, then I was definitely in the right.  That’s why they fear us, because we breathe and preach Freedom. We are willing to die to purchase a better Fiji. I have never gone silent and since then I have been arrested 3 times for just speaking out against the Bainimarama Government. 
And in joining SODELPA I have invested much of my energy and time into ensuring many young people understand the Dictatorship we are trying to dethrone. Every day I report to the SODELPA Office and stand alongside many other Freedom Fighters who have been arrested and abused for refusing to accept the Coup of 2006. There is a sense of Honor in their daily activities, a dedication to serving people and safeguarding Fiji
We do not have a bad Military. We just have very bad self serving leaders. 
This man Frank Bainimarama is a paranoid control freak, a man who masks all his crimes with Freebies and Development. Do not be fooled, Frank is afraid of you! He is afraid that more people will hear the truth about the bitter road we have had to endure for the last 8 years. Frank Bainimarama is pumping as much resources as he can in order to prevent the TRUTH from been heard. WE the People, have a simple solution - Change the Government.  
Friends, after all the nepotism, militarisation of the State, the corruption, the Torture and the Intimidation, and even after all the deaths at the hands of the State, we have been asked to now vote for a Government of the People. And Bainimarama is pretending to be a Saint or our Savior. 
I am voting for the Party that will bring about real change, I dont need anything to be given to me Free. I am voting for The Party that will seriously look into human rights violations and take action. The Party that will restore and protect elements of the Fijian Administration and my Culture. I am voting for SODELPA because I know that peace is guaranteed. And many young people feel the same. 
When election day comes, I know it will be an emotional day for me and many other people in Fiji. My Hopes, Anger, Aspirations and Dreams will all rest on that tick. I pray that this message can be used, to show the true heart of people in SODELPA. For Freedom Hope and Glory and an end to the COUP CULTURE.

Bainimarama is Frankly a monster

Nothing epitomizes the past eight years of media repression in Fiji better than the video of dictator Frank Bainimarama slapping a woman TV journalist in the face last week. It captures not only the contempt with which Bainimarama has treated the press, but also the brutality with which he has treated people, including and especially women. Now some of Bainimarama’s staunchest supporters are re-thinking whether he would make a fit leader for a democratic Fiji, as should all citizens in advance of Wednesday’s poll.

3News reporter Amanda Gillies was in Suva from New Zealand to cover the election campaign and approached Bainimarama at a rally. “Can you promise there won’t be another coup,” she asked the obviously irritated dictator. “Can you just move away from me?” replied Bainimarama, who told Gillies he didn’t want to discuss the subject. He first pushed away her microphone, then began waving his hand in her face. “I will move away,” promised Gillies, who courageously refused to be intimidated and persisted as any good journalist should. “But I just want to know if you . . .” She couldn’t finish her sentence because Bainimarama slapped her in the face, causing her to drop her microphone at the 12-second mark of this clip. 

The video, which has been making the rounds on Facebook, has elicited a shocked response from viewers. Bainimarama has been rumored for years to have participated in the beating of women who were arrested for advocating democracy in the wake of his 2006 coup, including one who was pregnant. He also famously condoned the beating of escaped prisoners last year after a video of the atrocity was posted to the Internet. But to watch as the prime minister gives the back of his hand to a woman leads to the inescapable conclusion that this thug is simply not fit for leadership. 

As campaigning culminates, even some of Bainimarama's longest-serving sycophants are deserting his sinking ship. Crosbie Walsh posted a sheepish entry which he labelled a “Personal Confession” on his blog yesterday. “What if I’m wrong,” worried Croz.
When I started this blog in May 2007 it was to offset the distorted reporting of NZ journalist Michael Field, and I was writing mainly for an overseas audience. . . . Since then, as I read about what the Bainimarama government was doing and talked to a wide range of people in Fiji, my position gradually changed. . . . To make matters worse, a number of government-initiated judicial actions seemed personally charged and vindictive. And its failure to have public audits and reveal salaries laid it wide open to further charges by the Opposition.  
If even crazy old Croz is questioning his beloved dictator, then you know Bainimarama is going down. “He’s a military man and he definitely has a very short fuse,” admitted Croz. “Parliament will be a very different environment. If FijFirst wins and Bainimarama forms Fiji’s next government, his power will be limited by law.”
Bainimarama is normally a friendly person who enjoys being with people. I am optimistic that this positive side of his personality will be used to good effect in Parliament, and the “short fuse” kept in check. 
This incident is only the latest in a long line of erratic and even violent behavior by Fiji's self-appointed prime minister. Former U.S. ambassador Larry Dinger outlined a litany of abuse in cables made public in 2011 by Wikileaks. Dinger quipped that “a psychiatrist would have a field day with Bainimarama,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
The US embassy reports also document cases of rape and sexual assault by military personnel, including at least one instance of a group of detainees forced to engage in group sexual acts. In another case a prominent human rights activist was “felt up” by a senior military officer and was “warned she would receive worse treatment unless she stopped her activities.”
Then, of course, there is Bainimarama’s shameful treatment of Father Kevin Barr, a former supporter who made the mistake of joking in a letter to the editor last year that, given the loans received from that country, Fiji should consider incorporating the flag of China into its flag instead of the Union Jack. The Catholic priest recounted then receiving a telephone call from an angry Bainimarama, who called him “a fucked up priest.” Then came the text messages. “Fuck U arsehole, . . Start saying your goodbyes Father Kevin James Barr,  Australian national, work permit as a missionary, expiry date for permit 31/12/2013. . . Go and be  a missionary in China.” Tales of Bainimarama’s out-of-control drinking have long circulated around Suva, including one recent incident in which he is said to have publicly soiled himself. It would be understandable if the citizens of Fiji decided on Wednesday that such an idiot, thug and monster is not fit to lead their country.