15 Nov 2002

15 Fiji soldiers go to jail

11:14 am on 15 November 2002

Amnesty International has called on the Fiji authorities not to be selective in their justice.

The call comes after 15 soldiers were sentenced to jail for their role in the November 2000 mutiny.

Their leader, Captain Shane Stevens, has been sentenced to life imprisonment while the other 14 have been given jail terms ranging from 18 months to 8 years.

Amnesty says justice for those who lost their lives in the mutiny must be matched by justice for thsoe who were tortured and killed by the military.

Amnesty says the military appears to be effectively protecting suspects from being brought to justice for the extrajudicial executions and torture of prisoners.

Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs has refused a request that it accept a traditional apology on behalf of 15 mutineers seeking forgiveness.

The chairman of the council, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, himself Fiji's former military commander, says the law has to be respected, especially when the court martial found the soldiers guilty.

The leader of the mutineers, Captain Shane Stevens, has been sentenced to life imprisonment while the other 14 have been given jail terms ranging from 18 months to 8 years.

Stevens had planned and led the gun battle in the mutineers' attempt to seize the main army camp on the outskirts of Suva and assassinate the military commander, Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama.

The revolt was put down by loyalist soldiers at a cost of ight lives and more than 30 injuries during a time of serious political instability in post-coup Fiji.

The sentence was handed down by the president of the court martial, Colonel Ilaisa Kacisolomone, who said the men had committed some of the most serious offences under military law.

He said the death penalty had to be retained under military law.

Colonel Kacisolomone says arguments have been put forward outside the court to abolish the death penalty from military law.

But, he says, it is the considered opinion of the court that the death penalty should be retained as a punishment for certain offences in the military.

Col Kacisolomone says the capability to wreak havoc through the indiscriminate misuse of armaments and fire power will always need a deterrent and the death penalty is the most effective deterrent there is.

Some of the mutineers had taken part in the coup six months earlier and had been released only a week before they staged their uprising.