Amnesty demands probe into Fiji brutality claims
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Amnesty International demanded an investigation Wednesday, October 1, into claims Fijian soldiers assaulted a man involved in a dispute with the country's newly-elected prime minister, calling the case an early test of the government's human rights credentials.
The man, a 60-year-old teacher, is believed to have complained via text message to Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama about his songs being used without permission during Fiji's recent election campaign, the rights group said.
Amnesty researcher Kate Schuetze said that over the weekend, 4 soldiers turned up at the man's house just outside Suva and beat him so badly that he remains in hospital recovering from his injuries.
"These are very serious allegations," Schuetze told Agence France-Presse.
"We've received information from more than one source and we think that's enough to warrant establishing a credible, independent investigation."
Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 coup then stepped down as military leader earlier this year to contest the South Pacific nation's September 17 election, which he won in a landslide.
During eight years of military rule, Bainimarama's regime muzzled the media, clamped down on public meetings, sacked the judiciary and was accused of human rights abuses.
Amnesty released a report in August saying he presided over a "climate of fear" in the ethnically divided country of 900,000, where tensions between indigenous Fijians and the Indian community have resulted in four coups since 1987.
Last month's vote has been hailed a success by the likes of UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the Commonwealth last week reinstated Fiji as a member, saying a democratically elected government now ruled the islands.
Schuetze said the allegation involving the teacher came just a month after a prisoner died in custody in Fiji, adding: "It shows that there's an ongoing pattern of these issues which has not been addressed."
She said Bainimarama's government needed to properly investigate and prove that it has more respect for human rights than the military regime that preceded it.
"This provides a clear opportunity for Fiji to show that human rights are an important issue and it's making that change," the Australia-based activist said.
"Unfortunately we haven't seen that come to fruition yet but we're still hopeful."
She said Fiji's rights record is scheduled to be reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on October 29. – Rappler.com