15 Apr 2005

Fiji PM rejects allegations of political interference

2:11 pm on 15 April 2005

Fiji's prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, has rejected allegations of political interference in the release of the jailed former lands minister, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, and senator Ratu Josefa Dimuri.

The allegations have been levelled by the Citizens Constitutional Forum and the Fiji Labour Party.

Mr Qarase has told Radio Legend prisons officials made the decision because the two chiefs qualify under the Prisons Act to serve their sentences extramurally.

Mr Qarase says he can state quite categorically that he has never interfered with the judiciary and he does not intend to do so as long he holds his position.

He says it is against his principles and his belief.

Mr Qarase says the two chiefs applied to serve their sentences extramurally and it has been granted under the Prisons Act based on the grounds given.

Mr Qarase says his critics must themselves respect the law because they seem to stand with the law when it suits them but they don't stand with the law when it does not suit them.

He says he wants to remind Poseci Bune that his leader, Mahendra Chaudhry was convicted of manslaughter some time ago and given a 9-month jail sentence.

Mr Qarase says Mr Chaudhry got a release under a Compulsory Supervision Order after only a few days in prison.

He says they did not complain when Mr Chaudhry was let off under the law for a much more serious crime but they are complaining now about the release of the two chiefs.

Meanwhile, Peni Moore of Women's Action for Change says prisoners do feel insulted when, as she puts it, politicians get freed because of their connections.

"They are powerless in the prisons and it's a majority of poor people and don't have this sort of ability to even get respected for when they're sentenced wrongly... many of them have no access to the law."

Peni Moore says she's sure the authorities will be able to find ways to rationalise Lalabalavu's release under the structure of the Prisons Act.

But she says other prisoners who have no mana, or power, in that way, would never have the same release.