Saturday, April 7, 2007

CHRISTMAS FEAR The story of the Democracy 6 - accounts of eyewitness


Sorry, Fiji's about to play the 1/4 finals in Adelaide so I only have time for this quick post. I leave you with this gem from Resist Franks Coup. Good Stuff. We also support the call for justice, and for the recommencement of the democracy shrine, in Lami and elsewhere.

On December 5 2006, the nation woke up to what many would say, another day in paradise. Paradise today consisted of the earlier news from the Monday just past, this morning, commuters coming into the city from up the tacirua heights, will have noticed an array of government vehicles parked at a police post just before Tamavua village. On a particular bus, travelers notice two SDL government ministers, standing waiting on the side of the road, for a taxi. Earlier some commuters would have seen soldiers of the Royal Fiji Military Forces stopping these cars and forcing the ministers outside. Mind you, these men are still ministers of the ruling oversized multiparty cabinet.

Through the half hourly updates on the various radio stations, government vehicles are seized from houses and one house in particular, that of the Prime Minister is surrounded by military personal. Apparently also during the course of the day, an invitation has been sent to the prime minister to present himself at the Presidents residence. For constitutional lawyers, what should have happened on that day, was that the president Ratu Iliolo was meant to verbally convey a plea to the prime minister to resign. But after a visit from the Government house by the commander of the military forces, Voreqe Bainimarama, soldiers outside the home of the prime minister were ordered not to allow Mr. Qarase from leaving his home. Why, would that order come at such a time when a crisis could have been solved constitutionally? The answer lies in within the four walls of a private meeting between the commander and his elite circle of friends and the Presidents, Ratu’s Iliolo and Madraiwiwi. Where the Vice, Madraiwiwi laid out the constitutional requirements and eloquently explained the illegality of what was happening, later on at the end of the day, the commander would call this move as ‘blocking the president’ from exercising his constitutional role.

So the story is old after that, through the media Bainimarama decides that he can “step into the shoes of the president” and publicly removes the president from the office. A state of Emergency is declared.

Now this article will not explore the law surrounding the takeover, but focus on the abuses of human rights that occurred after the state of emergency was declared. Human right violations were rampant during the early days of the coup; executives of the public service and government ministers were the early victims. Later on ordinary citizens,[ a small percent were activists and SDL supporters], were physically mishandled and emotionally displaced after detainments at military installations.

I know that investigative journalism is rare in Fiji, this is an attempt to gauge not the whole context of what has happened in Fiji in terms of Human Rights Violations but actually touch on ‘one night of terror’ that many people in Fiji would agree was the pinnacle of all Human Rights abuses since December 5; and that is when 5 vocal campaigners for the restoration of democracy (media termed as pro-democracy supporters) and one flat mate of the other, were taken from their homes, and made to feel ‘pure fear’. There is a problem at the moment in ascertaining who was a true democracy activist and who was not. But we must all agree that after that night all 6 persons would become the much-talked advocates for democracy and will in time become the image of the silent majority during this time of tribulation.

I have been very interested in what happened that night, a Christmas Eve, but obviously because of security reasons, understand why not much is known about that night. The fact that not much is known about that night, has lead to a array of misleading lies and made up connotations ranging from rape, sodomy and just a simple meeting. So therefore this article will focus on interviews and experiences of people who were there that tragic night.

At this juncture I must introduce the three willing witnesses. Before that, to correct a mistake all people in Fiji might have, on December the 24th, Christmas Eve, these 6 persons are thought to have been the only non-military personal at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks that night. That impression is wrong; there were other persons, picked during that Sunday night and detained at the military barracks.

The three witnesses were not the activists, but were persons at the camp on that night, all before the arrival of the 6 pro-democracy activists. Obviously their names have been changed, but their stories and recollections are presented.

Pravin is a IT consultant based in Nadi, every week end he would brave the tiring drive from the west to travel to Suva, and visit his longtime sweet heart, Priscilla. Pravin usually stays with his relatives and Priscilla is a Suva girl and stays with her family in one of the leeway streets of Raiwaqa. This time around Pravin is anxious about this visit. Priscilla has invited him to a family lunch on Christmas Day. This for Pravin is the first time for him to meet his family and was weighting heavy on his mind. He is also suppose to Priscilla tonight and they will go over the formalities of tomorrow’s stressful event.

Meanwhile in a totally different context, Filipo, a Lauan youth, is in Cunningham. Soaking up the sounds of reggae music and fumes of marijuana smoke. He has decided to gather at a home of a neighborhood friend and drink till the early hours of Christmas. This is accepted by youths in Fiji as the best means to welcoming the birth of the Lord Jesus. And the fact that today is Sunday has no bearing on the jovial mood inside the sitting room. Music blaring and drinks flowing, the seven men inside the room that afternoon would never guess what awaited them in a few hours time.

The third interviewee is Sumu Subaka, well as he wants to be known. Who is a soldier and was very much involved in everything that happened that Christmas eve. he has agreed to speak to me if I changed is name and got the truth out. He like many other soldiers are classic school leavers with no employment but this coup has helped solve that problem. Anyway, he wakes up in the afternoon to a message from the Corporal Tevita, that he has a phone call waiting. It was his mother, wishing him the very merriest Christmas; Private Subaka would do anything to be home with his mother and family and celebrating Christmas. But he is led to believe that he is doing an honorable service to the people of Fiji, he is directly part of this clean up campaign. After talking to his mother, he hangs up and is told by a passer-by that names duty rooster is with Corporal Tevita. Subaka pays Tevita a visit and cites the list, the usual names, people he knew, stationed in and around the camp. No checkpoint duty tonight. The thought of spending Christmas at the gates of the QEB crossed his mind, and he giggled to himself. But he noticed that some names on duty tonight were new and that some of these men were used for specific reasons pertaining to the clean up campaign. He thought for a while why were so many soldiers listed on the rooster for Christmas Eve. Then he went for Lunch.

Now at an opening prep session, Subaka takes his place in an enlarged line order on the QEB grounds. He is told where he is stationed, at the front gate of the QEB. Notices friends from another unit arriving in a truck, and they are waiting their own messing. Anyway, Subaka and his unit are told that they will have “some very famous visitors tonight”.

Meanwhile the time is now way after the 6oclock news, and we are in Suva now. Virisila Buadromo’s home, where she is watching the news with her flat mate, Arshad. They should have had a cordial conversation by now about what was happening in Fiji. Then Arshad looks outside and notices two men in Bula Shirts standing outside their gate. Interesting, Arshad may have discredited them for Jehovah’s Witness. So Arshad goes and talks to them; he find however that they want to see Virisila and take her for a meeting. These men were than led to believe that Virisila was not in the house. So they decide to wait, their orders were specifically to make sure they bring Virisila. They later break open the gate (after about an hour) and take Virisila and Arshad.

Imraz Iqbal on the other hand is visted by other group pf men and walks leisurely into the trap, after believing that he was to attend a meeting. By the way, Imraz is also just recovering from the loss of his business office to a fire that morning. People around the vicinity at the time see Imaraz getting into the military pick up truck.

Meanwhile, Jackie Koroi and Peter Waqavonovono are in their homes with their families. Jackie has decided to take an early night and Peter is getting ready to attend Church with his mother, meanwhile Imaraz is already been taken in and Virisila is still in her home with a growing military escort outside her gate.

Witnesses say Peter attending church that morning in Lami, with Jackie. And than Peter attends a night service again with his mother at the St Joseph the Worker Parish in Tamavua. After the service an eyewitness claims that soldiers were outside but could not spot Peter. Anyway apparently the Zincks attend this church also, and Kenneth Zinch, a former minister who has been up to the barracks already, loudly greets Peter after the service and jokingly ask’s if Peter has ‘done his rounds at the barracks’. Peter is said to have laughed at that comment, if only he knew that he was actually going to literally do his rounds also that night. Anyway, the story goes that Peter goes home and may have had a time to see the late news on Fiji TV. But he could have very well been picked up that night at the Church service.

Laisa Digitaki puts her kids to bed, and according to her statement is asleep by the time soldiers congregate at her residence.

Back to our three witnesses, Pravin is now with Priscilla, and they are at the Nasese sea wall, he has just gone over the formalities who to talk too and what to say. Anyway, Pravin looks at his watch, it is 10.45pm, it is late. Just than a knock comes on their door, Pravin opens the door and outside is a soldier, asking them to get out of the car. Pravin comes out and sees that there is in fact a pick up truck just a meter from his car. They are told to get into the pick up truck. Prisilla starts to cry, she stops when they arrive at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks. They are told to go stand at the grounds and and sit on the cricket pitch. They walk to the grounds and find that there are a few other people on the grounds already, all sitting on the cricket pitch.

Meanwhile he turns around a sees a boy with a red Tongan jersey. Anyway the Tongan jersey guy is Filipo. Filipo is still in a drunken haze, but understands why he is on the grounds tonight. It was to do with drinking alcohol and its adverse negative effects. Filipo earlier in the night, was shocked to find military men storm into the home he was drinking in and force him and his friends into Truck. When he realized that he was at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks he was fast becoming scared.

Meanwhile Subaka is standing at the QEB gates and has allowed these trucks into the camp. He presumed that the ‘famous visitors’ were on the ground. Just than he noticed that a pick up truck had arrived and allowed it access. Inside was Imraz, he was taken into the guard house. Just than Subaka started to realize that these famous people where going to be people like Imraz, critics of the military.

Meanwhile, a soldier walks on to the field and orders that all persons now remove their clothing. All of a sudden there is a long line to naked people, they are than asked to run and make laps around the ground. Later on a group in told to crawl. And Pravin and Priscilla are told to run up and down the road leading to the officer’s mass.

Filipo is instead made to crawl and run and crawl. He is fast becoming tired, and the beating he is getting while he runs is rather unwarranted and slowing him down.

Pravin and Priscilla are told sit in the rose bushes and pull the weeds. This is when Pravin notices that there is no light and pulls whatever he can find. He hears Priscilla crying from the other side of the garden. He looks into the ground and sees people running and crawling and persons getting beaten.

As Filipo runs he looks to the main road and sees a well known school mate of his father. A high-ranking soldier walking on the road. Filipo decides to run towards this man and maybe if he could call his name the man would help him out of this situation. Filipo is hit on the head and falls flat on the ground. Wrong move trying to cut across the ground like that.

Filipo calls out anyway, “Pita Driti”. But no response. Meanwhile at the gate, Subaka notices the silhouette of Mr. Driti, coming down from the main offices. He walks into the guard house.

As he looks towards the ground he see that people are now running back to the road, “ah, exercise finished” Subaka thought to himself.
A few minutes later Imraz walks out of the guardhouse, in his bright red underwear. He is given a paper and he proceeds to read. Just than high-ranking officials stand around him and insultingly spit and slat his face. Subaka realizes that Imraz is reading comments that he is accredited to have said about the military. “He deserves it” was Subaka’s response; he consoled his guilt with that notion for a while. Just than a truck drove out, Filipo was inside he was so happy that it was all over, as he looked outside he noticed Imraz reading and in underwear. He immediately thought that Imraz would face the same treatment.

Imraz is taken into the cell, Priscilla is allowed to leave with some others and Pravin is put in the cell. Pravin is still in his underwear and he forcefully closes his eyes and hopes to wake from this nightmare. As Pravin wakes up notices soldier bringing in another women, she looked familiar. He later came to know that this was Laisa Digitaki. She is than moved into another cell, when she starts to strike a conversation with whomever she was with in the first cell.

A soldier than comes in and starts shouting at her, a commotion takes place but is defused when he is called outside.

Oblivious to the fact that he was in the same cell with Arshad, Pravin got scared, why was he still here and what had he done. He needed help.

Subaka, did not notice that he had allowed Virisila and Arshad into the camp. He was too busy watching the activities on the ground. Just than a fellow soldier called out. Apparently Virisila was told to run up to the office mess.

Subaka saw Virisila, the full weight of what would happen tonight finally dawned on him. These were the famous people they were expecting, he started to feel excited.

Meanwhile Subaka opened the gate again to another car, this time with Laisa inside. He noticed Laisa straightaway. She was taken into the guardhouse. Subaka started to expect more people. Who else was coming?

Soon after that Laisa comes back out of the guardhouse and is taken out of the camp in another car.

After some time Subaka claims that the four wheel drive comes back with Peter Waqavonovono. Peter strikes up a conversation with some soldiers and gets in another car. Peter’s neighbors in Namadi Heights, claim that when soldiers arrived, a heated discussion occurred outside his home. A neighbor whose name I can’t reveal, claims that the presence of soldiers, dogs barking and the heated discussion woke some people up when he came out he noticed people talking and than Peter walked out of the house.

A neighbor living opposite the family, who is senior pastor, came out of his home and started to a ask questions also. The pastor came out publicly the next day and viciously criticized the military.

Back at the front gate, Peter is taken in another car and drives out of the camp. Laisa is told to run up to the officers mass. After a while Laisa and Virisila come running down the road in to the ground where soldiers are waiting. Imraz is escorted out of the guard house and made to run into the ground also. Just than Subaka noticed that soldiers started to congregate at the entrance to the steps that led to the grounds and even he had to go and watch.

Imraz, Laisa and Virisila were told to crawl and they were kicked and dragged around the ground. They were told lie down in a line and it seemed that the unit on the ground kicked them and a senior officer spoke to them. Some soldiers started to sing “I wish you a merry christmas”.

“Just than another senior officer, a chief, came down from the officers mess and walked into the grounds” Subaka recalls. Than as he looked to the gate, a rental car had arrived. Peter and Jackie Koroi got off. They told to go into the grounds.

“I heard the officer ask them to crawl, we saw one get down and crawl and the other just stood there. The seemed to be saying something but was kicked and soldiers ran to him, and kicked him and dragged him to the cricket pitch. They than all stood up and ran towards the gate.

Subaka later came to know that the 5 activists were told to run to Lami and dismantle a democracy shrine they had set. When they reached the gate Imraz stopped and asked Subaka for his stuff, Subaka responded with a swear, “F**K off”.

As they ran out of the camp, it started to rain, and a truck went out of the camp after the 5 activists. Just than a high ranking officer came and told Subaka and some others to get into one of the trucks and get Waqavonovono.

Meanwhile, in the cell, Pravin heard some singing, “Merry Christmas” he thought to himself. Just after about an hour, he heard some commotion, they seemed to bringing a table into the guardhouse. He noticed than that there was another Indian in the cell with him, Arshad.

Subaka and some others stopped Peter Waqavonovono at mead road and told him to get into the car. They brought him into the camp and he was told to go into the guardhouse.

After a minute, senior military personal walked into the guardhouse. And we later heard shouting and than peter started shouting in pain. Now the question of what actually happened in that room that night will be answered by Pravin, who is still in the cell.

“I heard that someone was told to sit down. And than I heard someone asking questions like ‘why are you making a army’ and than I heard some shouting. They started to beat the person up. And than I heard them ask ‘who is the president of Fiji’ and than I heard some more shouting. I have never heard a person shout like that, I think they were beating him up, because he kept screaming.”
Subaka than saw Peter been dragged outside. Peter was asked to kneel, he got on his knees.

Than a senior officer asked if Peter could bark like a dog. Peter did not do anything so they hit him on the head. Soldiers started to gather around the guardhouse. Peter than started barking, like a dog. “But he sounded like he was making fun of us, the way he was barking”.

Subaka than thought to him self “what a nut” and Peter’s barking started insult the soldiers; he was told to stop and make the sounds of the chicken. Peter did not make any sounds. Subaka said everyoine started swear at peter and spit on him, “they kicked him but he did not make any sound”.

Than one of the senior officers came with a rifle (Gun), pointed to Peter’s head. Subaka felt a sudden rush up his body, was he going to see a person die.

The senior officer asked, whether Peter wanted to die. Than he said, “say your prayers, any last words before I kill you”. Peter looked up and said something that has stayed in the minds of many soldiers that night. In fact it may have been the most impacting statement some of them would have to bear.

Peter looked up into the barrel of the rifle and shouted, “My God’s wrath will rain down on this place and no one can hide”. There was silence and than two soldiers carried him into the ground and than after two minutes he was taken away by one other soldier.

Subaka, say’s with tears in his eyes that that night turned soar very fast. Peter was escotted out and dropped at home, he was allowed to run to Lami.

Meanwhile, Laisa, Virisila and Jackie were past mead road by now. Eyewitnesses say, that as they ran on the main road, soldiers hit them. A resident on princess road said that she was shocked when she saw Virisila run past her house, “First I saw Imraz, and than I saw the three girls, I was so sad when I saw Virisila, it was so humiliating” apparently some things people do not know is that these three women were also harassed and beaten as they were made to run on the road. “One soldier came and slapped the Koroi girl and told her to keep moving.”

In Lami at around 12am in the morning, Tomasi awoke from his sleep. He heard a crash of glass. He stood up to see what was happening, the sounds seemed to come from next door. Next Door, Tomasi knew was the famous Democracy Shrine, but why was there some much commotion. As he looked outside he saw soldiers all over the place, breaking windows and could see some of them inside the house.

He sat down on his bed and though about what could he do, I hoped that no one was in the shrine. He started to fear that maybe they might come to his house, so he sat down in bed, and just did not want to move.

He only walked outside when it seemed that the soldiers had left. The democracy shrine in Lami was destroyed. He went back inside, and noticed that Imraz was outside. “I watched Imraz and Laisa walk around the property and Laisa started spraying something. I did not want to go outside, I thought that maybe the soldiers might see me talking to them, I just got so scarred.”

Pravin was released in the morning. And told not to pick up prostitutes again. Pravin for the sake of clarity accepted the comment and went on his way. But for people like Subaka, they could not understand fully what had happened. They would later start to talk about what happened and sorrow for the 5 activists settled in – they also realized that in the course of events that night, a curse was spoken over them and they spoke about thoroughly, some discrediting it and some saying that they were worried.

My daughter ran to me in the room and kissed me and wished me a merry Christmas. I got out of bed and hugged her. We walked into the sitting room, the Christmas tree lights were still on from last night, I turned them off.

As I walked into the kitchen my daughter was sitting by the radio and listening attentively. “What’s happening” I asked, I looked into her eyes, for the first time in my life I saw the sight of fear, she pointed at the radio and explained that a senior in Saint Joseph, was taken last night into the camp and beaten. I heard some familiar names Digitaki, Waqavonovono, Buadromo and Iqbal. “My God” I exclaimed, “its Christmas for heavens sake”

Mr. Frederick
Stories of Fiji’s crying children


Anonymous said...

I look forward to the time when it is my turn to thump Frank, Driti, Mara and their henchmen across the back their heads with a good old 4 by 2! Or maybe a solid bowai club, a traditional skull smasher, will do the trick! REVENGE! REVENGE! REVENGE!

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