11 Aug 2004

Fiji Conservative Alliance says alleged hate speech was only freedom of expression

10:15 am on 11 August 2004

Fiji's pro-coup Conservative Alliance has defended a villager who said he was prepared to lose his life in return for the release of vice president Seniloli from jail.

Police say this is hate speech and have warned they will charge people making statements which will incite racial hatred.

But the Fiji Times reports that the Conservative Alliance general secretary, Ratu Josefa Dimuri, has described the statement as an exercise of the constitutional freedom of speech.

Ratu Josefa says he does not think the comments are a threat to national security, adding that a lot of people share the same view but are not expressing themselves.

The opposition leader, Mick Beddoes, has backed the police, saying the constitution prohibits people from making comments that incite hatred.

Mr Beddoes says there have been irrational responses from some quarters in the current environment.

Meanwhile, while Seniloli and deputy speaker Vakalalabure continue to hold office and enjoy their full salaries from prison.

Mutineers jailed last Friday have lost their salaries and suspended police officers under investigation for involvement in the coup are on half pay only.