In the weeks between late January and mid-March, at least six people in Fiji who could be termed “public opponents” of the country’s military-backed government have been targeted by unidentified individuals who late at night have thrown large stones at their houses and severally damaged their cars and other property.
The victims include two journalists, including the editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times, a trade unionist who is the head of the new Movement for Democracy, a prominent businesswoman, a former labor minister, and a lawyer who represented two men charged with planning to assassinate Voreqe Frank Bainimarama, the country’s Prime Minister who came to power in a December 2006 military coup.
Questions swirl regarding the perpetrators’ identities. Many stoning victims contend the attacks are politically motivated and a few claim to know who did the damage, even silently pointing a finger at Fiji’s government for either tacitly sanctioning the attacks or, perhaps, planning them. The police have investigated the attacks, but so far have come up with no tangible information. Many political bloggers called for Frank Bainimarama (or someone in the government) to deplore the attacks, which they claim are attempts to intimidate those critical of the regime.
Condemnations became more vociferous Monday after police reported that three unidentified men threw bottles filled with kerosene and sugar at two separate houses in Suva, the country’s capital. Only one bomb ignited at one of the houses, but no one was hurt. (The second house suffered a broken window.) The victims include Fiji Times editor-in-chief Netani Rika and former senior army officer Colonel Sakiusa Raivoce, a solider in Fiji’s army who currently runs the military recruiting firm Global Risks Services. Both men had rocks thrown at their houses a few weeks back.
Bainimarama, the head of the country’s military, came to power claiming to rid the country of what he saw as debilitating corruption and Fiji's long history of divisive racial and religious practices in the political sphere. (Fiji’s population is largely split between indigenous Fijians, who make up nearly 60 percent of the population, and Indo-Fijians, the ancestors of workers brought to the country by British colonial rulers to work on sugar and copra plantations.) On top of this racial disunity at the political level, many of Fiji's political leaders have open contempt for each other, often using the court system to force consensus. Writing about improvements in the Fiji media, journalist David Robie argued in the Cafe Pacific blog, “If the current regime and previous Fiji governments had spent even a fraction of their legal bills on sustained and committed media training and education in the country, then substantial progress would be made.”
Even nominally pro-government bloggers (and forum posters) have criticized Bainimarama for remaining silent regarding the attacks or being too weak to stop them.
real jack at the Fiji Board Exiles forum argues these attacks shows the military regime cannot guarantee the safety of its citizens:
FB has not condemned the attacks – nor has anyone from the millitary. if this state of affairs continues and gets worse they should not be surprised if the UN and the Commonwealth decide to not participate in the Presidential Forum and the whole thing falls apart – and then the whole process is scuttled and then the country descends into anarchy – the longer this state of affairs continues the more UNSTABLE the situation will become – it was stones, up until last week, now its molotov cocktails – next it will be guns and then nitro fertilizer homemade bombs.
this thing starts off small – and it gains its own momentum – and as people get emotional and upset they end up not giving a damn – that callous attitude by the regime only feeds into that sense of frustration that will translate into anger and will end up scuttling whatever achievements achieved todate.
[Here is some background on the upcoming Presidential Political Dialogue Forum, which could lead Fiji to elections after the country’s race-based electoral code is modified, Bainimarama hopes will force parties to reach across racial lines for support, limiting the power of nationalist parties.]
Alohabula1, also from Fiji Board Exiles, argues the government is not living up to its promises:
Bottom line -if FB's motive for taking over the government was for the security of the nation, THEN it follows that he MUST squelch this kind of behavior in the bud and catch the perpetrators.
Given that scenario, it is not that easy to catch whoever is doing this, its not like they leave a lot of evidence in their little cowardly drive bys, but FB and the Police had better make a concerted effort to try if they want to keep up any kind of appearances and do their job of securing the nation.
While the stonings were going on, much of Fiji’s political blogosphere have claimed the rock attacks were perpetrated by members of the country’s military. With molotov cocktail attacks now reported, Intelligentsiya continues that charge.
Anarchy has peaked in our shores.
While many already have strong but silent suspicions about who exactly is behind this, one would be hard-pressed to ignore the fluorescent coated trail of crumbs leading all the way up to QEB.
[QEB= Queen Elizabeth Barracks, the national headquarters of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces in a suburb of Suva.]
Two families,Fiji Times Editor, Netani Rika and retired outspoken soldier, Sakiusa Raivoce, were attacked in the early hours of the morning by some Fijian men armed with home made bombs.
These are families with children and it is indispeakable to ever think that Frank has chosen to go down this cowardly road to try and intimidate people.
How dare you Frank to try and burn the children of Fiji.
We say, stand up Fiji and protect your children now!
These unrepentant few must be stopped once and for all!
Before the molotov cocktail attacks, the government had issued a single statement, claiming the police were investigating the vandalism against individuals. It did little to fend off criticism in the blogosphere. (After the molotov cocktail strikes were reported, the government announced it will consider providing state security to the victims of strikes.)
Yet, media watchdog Crosbie Walsh, an academic formerly living in Fiji and now residing in New Zealand, argues the Bainimarama-regime has nothing to gain from these attacks, especially as it has begun meeting with political parties to attempt to set a roadmap for holding elections.
[I]t defies logic that the Government is behind these attacks at this critical time when it is seeking the support of political parties in advance of the President's Political Dialogue Forum. If the hooligans were anti-Government, their actions could help to derail the Forum. If they were pro-Government, their actions give anti-Government elements the high moral ground. Either way, their actions do not help the Forum process.
It's also worthy to point out, I'd argue, that no high ranking member of SDL, the governing party forced out of power during Fiji's December 2006 coup, have been targeted in the vandalism or by those throwing molotov cocktails. A discussion on that lies here.
Let’s end with a little ditty from Loyal Fijian.
A little background: A volcano erupting near Tonga last week may have had something to do with an 7.9 magnitude earthquake Friday, March 20 that lead to fears of a tsunami heading directly for Suva, prompting the government to close schools and send civil servants home. A lovo is a traditional earthen oven in Fiji used for baking anything from pigs to chickens to fish, all cooked over hot coals or rocks. The stoning perpetrators used lovo stones to vandalize the victims’ houses.
Wow wee, its has been an eventful week
Rumours and speculation were flying thick
Well, so much happening, not good for one weak of heart
I guess from the beginning is a good place to start
Netani Rika got a rude awakening
Somebody stoned his car, now thats a naughty thing
Then Attar Singh heard a loud bang, Oh my God, Oh Nooooo
Hey, shouldn't these stones be in the lovo
Now Now, before you accuse Loyal Fijian of justifying these acts
Take a deep breath, lets just look at the facts
Lovo stones belong inside the earth, under the fire
If they end up in peoples cars, now that means the situations getting dire
Our sympathies with Attar and Rika
Loyal Fijian stands for speaking your mind without favour or fear
Then there was the underwater volcano going off near Tonga
Tsunami is the last thing we need, if you see the big waves be sure to honker
The shops were closed, public servants took a break
Yes sir, count me in, a day off, I'll be happy to take
Isnt it funny, how we do this every time
Make it so funny and make it rhyme