Wadan Narsey: Shameful silences over another unfolding tragedy in Fiji

Lawyer Richard Naidu outside the High Court in Suva
Lawyer Richard Naidu outside the High Court in Suva . . . only a "kangaroo court" would deny an accused person the right to challenge evidence brought against him, his defence lawyer argued. Image: Ian Chute/The Fiji Times

COMMENTARY: By Wadan Narsey

There is a shameful public tragedy unfolding day by day as the Bainimarama government tries to stop a potential political candidate, lawyer and former journalist Richard Naidu, from getting into Parliament by trying to “criminalise” him over a trivial social media post.

Richard Naidu is one of Fiji’s leading lawyers, for decades a fighter for democracy and rule of law, with a deep social conscience that drove him to frequently write articles in the media to enlighten Fiji on relevant issues of vital interest.

Naidu’s alleged crime: a trivial post on his personal Twitter account that a legal judgment probably intended to say “injunction” rather than “injection” — an error that may have even been a typist’s error which the learned judge failed to pick up (as we all all do now and then).

No big deal any sensible person or judge would have thought, or even slightly funny.

But the malevolent forces running the Bainimarama government, suddenly pounced on Richard Naidu five months after that social media post, for allegedly “scandalising the judiciary”.

The media speculation was that Naidu became a target when there were public indications that he might be a candidate for the opposition National Federation Party (NFP), and if elected would have made an excellent Attorney-General.

But if he is convicted of this alleged “crime”, Richard Naidu would not be allowed to be a candidate in the 2022 elections, he might face a jail term and be deprived of legal practice. One can only imagine the dreadful trauma for his wife and family — all for a trivial throwaway line on Twitter, by a witty lawyer.

The tragedy is not that the Attorney-General and Minister of All Things (Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum) is driving this legal persecution — which he is — just as he has been the driver of the Bainimarama government for more than 14 years.

The real tragedy is the utter silence of the many bright people, once upon a time pro-democracy fighters with me, who have helped to bring Bainimarama to power and strengthened his government’s credibility nationally and internationally over the last 16 years.

The unfolding tragedy is far more painful for me personally as most of these silent warriors for Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum, were friends with whom I closely interacted more than a decade ago.

Richard Naidu in "good governance"
A recent Fiji Times article on “good governance” by Richard Naidu … enlightening Fiji on relevant issues of vital interest. Image: The Fiji Times screenshot APR

The shameful silences
At the head of the list of course has to be Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum himself, who shared a cell with me for our 1988 Sukuna Park protest against the Rabuka coup. My wife and I attended his first wedding function.

Then there is Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum who was a good journalist friend who used to invite me to his family home for Eid. Riyaz has been driving the vicious Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) media campaign to tarnish Richard Naidu. Aiyaz and Riyaz are sons of Khaiyum Sr who welcomed me into the NFP parliamentary team in 1996.

Wadan Narsey elected MP in 1996
Wadan Narsey (second from left) being welcomed by friends after being elected National Federation Party’s MP for Suva Central Indian in 1996. (Syed Abdul Khaiyum is on the right). Image: Narsey On Fiji

Then there are Nazhat Shameem and Shaista Shameem who were part of the Shameem family who used to welcome me and my wife to their mother’s home in Samabula.

As a bright High Court judge, Nazhat took to the slippery slope when she irregularly chaired a committee that replaced Chief Justice Danial Fateaki with Tony Gates.

We all remember that Gates tried to justify the 2006 coup alongside fellow High Court judges Davendra Pathik and John Byrnes, but failed when the 2009 Court of Appeal overturned their judgment.

Nazhat Shameem is now a high flying international bureaucrat, President of the International Human Rights Council. But she has been totally silent on the abuse of human rights going on in Fiji, and currently to the mistreatment of her old legal colleague Richard Naidu.

Shaista Shameem, a friend for decades until she justified the 2006 coup as a Fiji Human Rights Commissioner assisted by once radical unionist James Anthony. Despite that, I went to months of trouble to help her in making the legal case for pensioner (the late) David Burness against the Bainimarama government’s illegal reduction of his pension.

Shaista Shameem is now professor of law and vice-chancellor at the University of Fiji. She is totally silent on the abuse of human rights in Fiji and that of Richard Naidu who is also a lawyer like her.

Shaista has even appointed as professor of law Brigadier Aziz who saw at close quarters through his membership of the Evans Board of Inquiry into the 2000 coup and mutiny, the erosion of human right to life in the Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF).

There is Dr Satyendra Prasad, a former USP colleague who was part of our group (including the Citizens Constitutional Forum) that battled for democracy and racial equality after the 1987 Rabuka coup. Dr Prasad has astonishingly resurfaced politically serving the Bainimarama cause in New York and Washington.

Then there is Ashwin Raj (head of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission) who once upon a time was helped by Professor Biman Prasad and me to get a substantive post at USP.

He has faithfully served the Bainimarama regime for years (including the vicious persecution of the late Ratu Timoci Vesikula for an alleged racist remark), but Raj could never be accused of defending the many persons in Fiji whose basic human rights have been attacked by the Bainimarama regime itself.

Ashwin Raj is silent on this current attack on the basic human right of a Fiji citizen to point out on social media, a possible spelling mistake in a legal judgment.

There is the shadowy RFMF Military Council which is the real power behind Voreqe Bainimarama, that Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has silently used. I have little doubt that many of these officers were in the post-2000 classes I taught at the RFMF Officer Training courses in Vatuwaqa.

They would also have been in the early 2006 pre-election workshops at the RFMF camp in Nabua, attended by the top 400 RFMF officers, including Commander Voreqe Bainimarama who today is allegedly powerless to control his rampaging deputy.

Wadan Narsey with Voreqe Bainimarama
Wadan Narsey (right) with the late former NZ High Commissioner Michael Green (left), Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes and Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama – well before the 2006 Fiji coup. Image: Narsey On Fiji

Then there is also Brigadier General Ioane Naivalarua who, as Commissioner of Police in 2010, invited me to give a two hour workshop to his top police officers on how to tackle escalating crime in Fiji and the costs to the police of the coups.

It would seem that all my detailed explanations to the RFMF and police hierarchy of the terrible economic costs of the coups — and to them — clearly fell on deaf ears.

Wadan Narsey lecturing to the Fiji troops
Wadan Narsey lecturing to Fiji troops and Police Commissioner Brigadier Ioane Navalarua. Image: Narsey On Fiji

Then there are the corporate giants of Fiji who have been financially backing the Bainimarama government’s FijiFirst Party for years. The donors’ lists released by the Supervisor of Elections through the Fiji Sun two years ago, showed conclusively that hundreds of thousands of dollars were donated over the period 2014 to 2018 by the owners, their wives, daughters, mothers and even employees of Tappoos, Vinod Patels, Punjas, RC Manubhais, CJ Patels, the Wella Pillays etc through the strong-arm fundraising by Sanjay Kaba and other collectors.

These corporate giants, while occupying key positions on pubic enterprise boards in Fiji as never before, have never spoken out on their social responsibilities in Fiji such as the protection of human rights.

Yet Richard Naidu is a principal lawyer of a top law firm in Fiji, Munro Leys, with a well-earned reputation for protecting lawful corporate rights in Fiji — including theirs.

The silent Pontius Pilates
Like modern day Pontius Pilates, the above silent protagonists for Bainimarama and Khaiyum seen to have washed their hands of the basic human rights of Fiji citizens which are being battered left right and centre by the Bainimarama government that they helped to install.

As if all that matters to them are their profits and their personal careers and interests.

But Fiji will not forget them and their complicit silences, nor their shared responsibility in the abuses of human rights taking place in Fiji.

Sadly, Fiji people have not spoken out and taken to the streets when so many individuals have been unjustly persecuted after the 2006 military coup, like Russel Hunter, Hank Arts, Fred Wesley, Netani Rika, Anish Chand, Mereana Kitione, Kemueli Naiqama, Professor Pal Ahluwalia and so many others.

Many, like Professor Biman Prasad and other critical opposition MPs face daily attacks by the FBC and Fiji Sun for their efforts to hold the Bainimarama government to account.

And now they are after decent law-abiding lawyer Richard Naidu, all because he put up his hand to serve Fiji in Parliament at great financial cost to himself.

As I have done before, I remind Fiji readers of the wonderful lines attributed to Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller who was originally anti-Communist, an early supporter of Hitler, and even thought by some to have had anti-Semitic views:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Pastor Niemöller, like Archbshop Chong (head of the Catholic Church in Fiji) currently, frequently spoke on the dangers to decent society of the apathy of the general public.

I would urge the governments of Australia, NZ, US and Canada to keep a close watch on the progress of this legal case by the Bainimarama government and also of the names of the silent collaborators, who will one day no doubt want to settle in decent countries with respect for the rule of law, which they have helped to destroy in Fiji.

Dr Wadan Narsey is a former professor of economics at The University of the South Pacific and a leading Fiji economist and statistician. This article is republished from the author’s blog Narsey On Fiji with his permission.

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