Fiji arrests 63 people on charges of inciting unrest

Fijian officials say dozens of people arrested and charged with sedition, inciting communal antagonism, sparking fears for democracy

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama

Authorities in Fiji announced on Wednesday that 63 people were arrested for inciting political upheaval or violence, accusing them involving with a paramilitary-style training group and attempting to set up a sovereign Christian state. 

The Pacific region nation struggled with years of political unrests and several military coups before a landmark election that was held last year.

The arrests come less than a year after the Pacific nation of 900,000 held landmark elections which many hoped would usher in an era of stable democracy following years of political turmoil and a series of military coups.

Former military ruler who seized power in 2006, Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama's Fiji First party won the elections. But the stability that was hoped with this result has not been emerged and some Fijians accuse Prime Minister Bainimarama of using the arrests to silence political dissent.

He said in a speech last week before the arrests were announced that "Put simply, any insurrection will be crushed. Because it is not in the interests of the Fijian people as a whole, who are sick and tired of a tiny minority trying to sow division and insecurity and holding our nation back," according to Associated Press.

Fiji's Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions told AP that the group faces charges of sedition, urging political violence and inciting communal antagonism. The charges carry 10 to 15 years jail terms if the men are convicted. 

The office said 16 people have been released on bail while 47 remain in jail, detainees include some indigenous Fijian chiefs.

According to local media reports, the government sources claim a Fijian national who is also a former serviceman in the British Army had run secret military training camps as part of a plot to set up a Christian state on the island of Viti Levu, but did not name the accused man or confirm if firearms were involved.  

A lawyer who represents some of the suspects said that they are jailed without any credible evidence and pose no threat to Fiji's stability as the accusations related to events that took place in late 2014.

"If they were a threat to national security, I'm quite certain they would have caused all sorts of chaos by now. But they've continued to live as peaceful members of society, and nobody's had any issues with them," Aman Ravindra-Singh told AP.

TRTWorld and agencies