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By Matelita Ragogo
© USP Journalism Programme

SUVA: The issue of whether Fiji coup leader George Speight and his rebel
group charged with treason are covered under the Immunity Decree 2000
for their rebellion has been referred to the High Court.
Justice Peter Surman has directed all magistrates courts in the country
not to make any further orders relating to the immunity decree.
In a letter dated September 1, 2000, the judge said magistrates courts
were to "refrain from making any further orders relating to the
purported immunity of persons from prosecution in connection with the
Immunity Decree or any related decrees".
Chief Magistrate Salesi Temo, who was expected to make a ruling today on
whether the Immunity Decree was valid, said the directive was binding
He said he needed to refer the case to the High Court.
The 21 accused are charged with three counts of treason - treason
felony, conspiracy to commit treason felony, and misprision of treason.
Tension grew when prosecutor Robert Schuster introduced a new file with
13 charges for the 21 accused, including four men recently arrested, but
separately remanded in state custody at Nabua Police Station.
Speight and the 16 other accused have been detained in a makeshift jail
on Nukulau island, off the coast near Suva.
Defence lawyer Rabo Matebalavu was angered when questioning the officers
of the Director of Public ProsecutionÕs Office Òwhat is going onÕÕ,
adding that the new file even had new dates.
Instead of charges laid for activities from May 19 as was stated in the
previous charges, the new charges were dated from May 1, 2000.
"These charges are in a consolidated form, all previous charges have
been amalgamated to one file for the High Court. I will dismiss the
previous charges," Schuster said.
Temo then questioned Schuster why the dates were different. He also
asked why prosecutors did not know how many witnesses would testify for
the state, adding "evidence must be found before charges are laid".
Matebalavu attacked Schuster, saying the latter should make his mind up
which charges the defendants would be charged with.
"What is the intention of these changes? All we want to know is if the
Immunity Decree is applicable or not. These further charges are
misleading the court and constitute manufacturing of charges as we go
along,'' Matebalavu said.
But Schuster said the DPP's office had the right to press charges when
more evidence came up. He explained he did not know the number of
witnesses that would appear as more evidence was being collected.
Although Schuster was adamant that the four new men charged with treason
be remanded in Korovou Prison as advised by Commissioner of Prisons
Aisea Taoka's advice because Nukulau was full, Temo ruled they be
remanded at the Nabua Police Station.
Temo stressed the need for prosecutions to lay charges after all
evidence was collected, reminding the court that the accused were
presumed innocent until proven guilty but they were also entitled to a
fair trial in a reasonable time.
The group will remain in custody and will now reappear on September 15.

Title -- 2944 FIJI: High Court directive blocks Speight's immunity
Date -- 4 September 2000
Byline -- Matelita Ragogo
Origin -- Pasifik Nius
Source -- USP Journalism Programme/Wansolwara, 4/9/00
Copyright -- USP Journalism
Status -- Unabridged


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