Amnesty's CEO, Patrick Holmes, tells me that he believes this could be a pre-emptive move by the Fiji military to intimidate people who may be inspired by events in the Middle East, where several autocratic governments have been toppled by popular uprisings.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Patrick Holmes, Amnesty International New Zealand CEO
HOLMES: This is, we believe, the latest in a number of beatings. We've seen an escalation of the violence and intimidation that the Fijian authorities are using against their people.
HILL: What sort of information do you have about the extent of these alleged beatings and can we check on whether this information is true or not?
HOLMES: Well, we've got very good sources on the ground, which obviously we can't divulge, but we believe there are a number of beatings going on and that these are happening in the Queen Elizabeth Barracks. They are going on over a prolonged period of time, a number of different individuals concerned, but it's just an extension of the intimidation and bully boy tactics that we've seen for so long from this government and it seems to be being ramped up. I guess it's anybody's guess whether this is anyway linked to what is going on in the Middle East and whether it is in anyway some kind of pre-emptive frighteners, pre-emptive strike that the authorities are putting on their people to keep them in their place.
HILL: And in what sense does what's happening in the Middle East have an impact in Fiji?
HOLMES: Well, I think the people in Fiji, although there's no free press, of course, they still do have access to some press from relatives and so on abroad. I think that they would see that oppressors are being overturned in that part of the world and I think it would not take a huge leap of imagination to think that maybe they'd like some of that in their own country and to get rid of their own oppressor. So that's just an educated guess on my part, but I would imagine that somebody somewhere in Fiji is having those sorts of thoughts right now.
HILL: We spoke on our program, Pacific Beat to a 66 year-old pensioner of Fijian descent, an Australian citizen called Apisai Tawake who claims he was beaten by soldiers when he went back to Fiji over the Christmas-New Year break and tried to get an appointment to see Commodore Bainimarama. It seems on the surface of it somewhat unbelievable to think that the allegation could be that soldiers would beat up older people, pensioners, trade unionists. Why would soldiers do this, to what possible end?
HOLMES: Well, I can't in all honesty comment on the individual case, because I don't know the details, but it would be accurate to say that this is not uncommon from the reports we hear which are well documented that the army really will use intimidation and violence against its own public, its own members of the population irrespective of age, ethnicity, gender. So although I don't know the details of the gentleman that your talking about, I see no reason to disbelieve this as another example of what goes on there.
HILL: Has Amnesty International been able to speak to the government about your concerns about what's going on?
HOLMES: Well, we use our own government here in New Zealand. We use them to exert pressure and we've put constant pressure on our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our own Minister McCully to use his considerable influence with the government there and he assures us that he does so. But it's very difficult as you can imagine to get a direct line into the Fijian authorities, much less them to take note of a human rights organisation. So we consider the best way to exert any kind of influence is through our own government. They do still have strong links and of course with the Rugby World Cup coming up in September here, Frank is very keen to get here with some of his senior officers. So with those lines of communication are open now and we do encourage the government to use them.