FIJI CHIEFS’ LAWYER WARNED BY MILITARY

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FIJI CHIEFS’ LAWYER WARNED BY MILITARY

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 28) – The Fiji military has released lawyer Kitione Vuataki but with one condition to watch what he says.

Speaking from his Lautoka home yesterday, Mr Vuataki said he was glad to be free but gave an assurance to the military he would be careful of what he says publicly.

He said he reassured the military he would not incite trouble as claimed in certain media reports which he claims were misquoted.

"I have made an undertaking that I will be careful," he said.

Mr Vuataki said in any case, inciting trouble was against his ethics as a legal officer.

Mr Vuataki was the second lawyer representing some chiefs who have challenged the suspension of the Great Council of Chiefs in court to be detained at the weekend.

At the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Nabua, Mr Vuataki's partner lawyer, Ratu Savenaca Komaisavai was still being interviewed last night.

Ratu Savenaca was taken from his home at 4pm on Saturday to Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Nabua for questioning.

Military spokesman Major Neumi Leweni yesterday said Ratu Savenaca was still detained.

Without giving much details, he said Ratu Savenaca was still being interviewed.

Major Leweni said the two lawyers were detained in relation to the GCC case among other things.

Ratu Savenaca's mobile was switched off.

Mr Vuataki said during his detainment at the Duke of Edinburgh camp in Lautoka, he was treated well and not subjected to any physical assault or abuse.

"In fact some of the soldiers came and shook my hands," he said.

Mr Vuataki was taken into military custody at 3pm on Friday by a soldier who asked him to go to the camp.

He said he believed he was questioned concerning a media report titled: "Native Land under threat: GCC lawyers".

He said the article made it look like he was inciting the indigenous people.

"It looks like I was inciting which I as a lawyer can't do," he said.

Mr Vuataki said he was well fed and also received his medicine.

He said only one soldier was questioning him throughout his detainment.

He said he was released after 10pm and dropped home.

Mr Vuataki said by the time he came home, members of his family were asleep.

He thanked his family for their support throughout his detainment.

He believed the actions of his two grandchildren Jojo and Talei had an impact on his detainment which could have led to his release.

Talei who accompanied her grandmother, Mrs Vuataki, to the military camp on Saturday pleaded with the guard at the gate not to hurt her grandfather.

No comments could be obtained from the Fiji Law Society president Devanesh Sharma and his deputy Tupou Draunidalo.

Fiji Human Rights Commission director Doctor Shaista Shameem said she could not comment.

"But we're very pleased that Mr Vuataki has been released. I understand he was released last night," Dr Shameem said.

She said they had been communicating with Mrs Vuataki since Friday when her husband was taken by the military for questioning on the case, among other things.

Tui Tavua and suspended GCC chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini said he and other members were concerned about Ratu Savenaca being taken and held at the military camp at Nabua.

Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said he did not know the reasons Ratu Savenaca was detained but that a person could only be detained for up to 48 hours as provided under the Constitution.

Meanwhile, Mr Vuataki's legal partner New Zealander Janet Mason arrived in Wellington on Saturday, three days after she and her navy officer husband were beaten by masked men who broke into their Fiji home.

The heavily pregnant Wellington lawyer said in an interview with the Sunday Star Times that her husband, Roger MacDonald, suffered a cut to his head after the attack on Wednesday at their Lautoka home.

Mr MacDonald is a captain in the New Zealand Navy's joint information services agency.

Ms Mason said Wednesday's attack had been horrific and she had spent a terrible night "wondering whether her husband was being murdered in the next room".

She said one of the intruders had hit him so hard with a torch that it had shattered.

The intruder stole a laptop belonging to her and tried to steal two others.

She said the laptop contained legal documents pertaining to her work with the Great Council of Chiefs, the group challenging the legality of Fiji's military government.

She was evidently relieved to be back in New Zealand.

Ms Mason reportedly said she had no idea if the home invasion was politically motivated.

She was quoted on New Zealand television as saying Fiji was not a great place for lawyers who go up against the military. Mr MacDonald was on leave from the navy and told the Sunday-Star Times he was not in Fiji on official business and that the NZ Navy was aware of his presence there.

Defence Minister Phil Goff's press secretary said it was understood that MacDonald was on leave and not there on official navy business.

Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Cullen said the government was concerned about the ongoing intimidation in Fiji and wanted to see some real progress in human rights.

Until that happened, the New Zealand government would continue with its sanctions against Fiji.

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