UNEQUAL JUSTICE IN FIJI TREASON, MUTINY TRIALS

Editorial

FijiSUN

SUVA, Fiji (Aug. 6) - Compare the treatment of the former Counter Revolutionary Warfare soldiers charged with mutiny with those charged in the treason trial. The accused CRW soldiers have been in custody for close to four years.

Deprived of their freedom, the comfort of family, friends and loved ones, they have already suffered severe punishment – even though they are still innocent in the eyes of the law which holds that all accused people are innocent until declared guilty by a court. Some families have fractured under the strain.

Even if the court martial finds all or some of them not guilty – the verdict may be known today – their lives are damaged beyond repair.

The accused in the treason trial, by comparison, have had quite a different experience.

Allowed to go about their daily business as the innocent men they were - until yesterday's verdict – they were due to spend a night in detention last night. Their punishment will likely be known today.

The two trials throw into stark contrast the attitudes to bail in our system. For even though the soldiers are being tried by a military court, the norms of natural justice still apply. Bail is routinely refused in cases where the charges are extremely serious or where there is a risk that defendants might abscond or seek to interfere with witnesses.

By those criteria, both cases – mutiny and treason – are extremely serious, though neither set of defendants seemed likely to abscond or seek to interfere with witnesses. Yet the treatments could hardly be more different. Now the common reaction has been that both sets of defendants should have received the same treatment. But the voices raised appear to argue that the treason accused should have received the same treatment as the CRW soldiers.

We disagree. Justice delayed is very definitely justice denied as High Court judge Nazhat Shameem has made clear in her handling of the treason trial. And to have subjected those defendants to close custody for the duration of the drawn out proceedings would have been manifestly unfair. Imagine the position of Isireli Leweniqila – now an innocent man freed of all taint and charges – if he had spent the last four years behind bars.

Yet the possibility exists that some or even all of the CRW men might find themselves precisely in that position. Something is surely wrong here.

August 6, 2004

FijiSUN: http://www.sun.com.fj/

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