Fiji judge orders retrial in ‘hate graffiti’ spray painting sedition case

Former Fiji United Freedom Party (FUFP) leader Jagath Karunaratne (left) and ex-SODELPA whip Mosese Bulitavu in court in Suva yesterday. The judge ruled a retrial because a "substantial miscarriage of justice" had been carried out. Image: Jessica Savike /Fiji Times

By Jessica Savike in Suva

Fiji High Court judge Justice Vinsent Perera has ordered a retrial of former opposition SODELPA parliamentarian Mosese Bulitavu and Fiji United Freedom Party president Jagath Karunaratne in a case of alleged sedition over political graffiti.

The pair had appealed against their conviction and sentence of almost two and a half years each.

Bulitavu had been sentenced by Suva Magistrate Deepika Prakash to two years, five months and 13 days imprisonment, and Karunaratne was sentenced to two years, five months and 16 days imprisonment after being found guilty of sedition.

It is alleged the two were involved in spray painting words in different places between Nausori and Suva with the seditious intention of bringing into hatred or contempt, or to excite disaffection, against the government of Fiji.

It is alleged they did this with others between the August 1-27, 2011.

Justice Perera ruled in court yesterday there had been a substantial miscarriage of justice.

He said the magistrate breached or did not follow fundamental legal principles.

More than one person
Justice Perrera said it was clear the words were not spray painted by Karunaratne and Bulitavu, adding that the offence had been committed by more than one person.

The judge noted the citings of case laws by Magistrate Prakash, saying she had not followed them, and that it was clear she had not made a finding of the alleged act.

He set aside the conviction and allowed the appeal.

Bulitavu and Karunaratne have been released on bail.

The matter has been adjourned to September 24 and will be called before Chief Magistrate Usaia Ratuvili.

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