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Defence Cross-Examine Witnesses, Investigating Officer Over Letter

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Defence Cross-Examine Witnesses, Investigating Officer Over Letter From left: Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula, The Fiji Times Publisher Hank Arts and The Fiji Tmes Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley (in blue shirt) outside the High Court in Suva on May 2, 2018. Photo: Fonua Talei

Permanent Secretary for iTaukei Affairs Naipote Katonitabua testified yesterday that the contents of the alleged seditious letter contained instances of violent experiences of Muslims in Bangladesh which could trigger instability in Fijian communities.

Mr Katonitabua was questioned by Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Lee Burney in the Suva High Court about what he meant when he said the alleged seditious letter created fear.

He said the experiences highlighted in the letter could trigger emotions and instability in rural communities if third party clarification was not sought and that his team had received similar remarks during their consultations in the 14 provinces.

The trial continued before Justice Thushara Rajasinghe for the four accused men namely the Nai Lalakai column or letter writer Josaia Waqabaca, Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula, The Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley, and The Fiji Times publisher Hank Arts. Plus The Fiji Times.

Mr Burney asked Mr Katonitabua to point out which paragraph in the letter was related to hating Muslims.

Referring to the third paragraph of the second column he said the letter stated that: “The Muslims are not the indigenous of Fiji. This is a group that unlawfully entered into countries, and one of them is Bangladesh from India, where they murdered, rape their women, tortured the children until they overrule in which they own it today.”

Further, the letter was translated as saying: “Let us never forget that some of our places like Serua, Lodoni, Namena, Dawasamu which spreads out to our 14 chiefly provinces in Fiji, since today they have been taken away. Precisely that is the concern that will be faced by our children if we remain neglectful.”

Mr Katonitabua said in evidence that the land in “Serua, Lodoni, Namena, and Dawasamu” had different ownership and the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs along with the Ministry of Lands was working to return the land to its initial land owning units.

Mr Burney asked Mr Katonitabua which statements in the letter were incorrect.

He referred to the last paragraph in the first column of the published letter which mentioned that, “if Khaiyum intends to leave us and flee back to his place of origin which is Asia, we the indigenous would be buried with those heavy debts, which will be more and more burdened to our grandchildren trying to clear it out”.

He added that the land issue mentioned in the letter was also incorrect.

Mr Katonitabua was questioned about the feedback he received from iTaukei communities.

He said irrespective of which column the letter was published, the community members shared the information they read in the Nai Lalakai among themselves.

Mr Burney asked Mr Katonitabua why he disagreed with the statement that the letter supported the principle that people should devote themselves more to God.

He responded saying some of the contents of the letter did not uphold principles of being truthful to God as the letter promoted the separation of ethnic groups which were the iTaukei and the Muslims.

Second witness

The Investigating Officer of The Fiji Times case was called to give evidence yesterday.

In his evidence Inspector Esili Nadolo said he received instructions between June 26-27, 2016 from the then Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) the late Senior Superintendent of Police Semisi Bokadi to be the Investigating Officer of the case.

He said on June 30, 2016 he prepared the search warrant for the alleged seditious letter together with a copy of the April 27, 2016 Nai Lalakai edition.

He said after preparing the search warrant he took it to The Fiji Times office where he met the second accused Ravula.

Ravula directed Inspector Nadolo to the newspaper publisher Hank Arts after which the company lawyers were called in to the office.

Inspector Nadolo said he was informed that they would look for the documents which were needed then they would provide it to him.

The witness said he received the documents from Ravula on July 1, 2016 at the CID headquarters.

Josaia Waqabaca’s caution interview

Inspector Nadolo said on July 14, 2016 he was instructed to interview Waqabaca at the CID HQ.

He said the interview took place over a span of two days on July 14, 2016 and July 27, 2016 respectively.

When questioned why the interview was suspended in between he said the accused had given him some documents which prompted him to suspend the interview.

Inspector Nadolo said Waqabaca’s rights were read out to him and he did not complain about anything.

In his caution interview Waqabaca was asked to explain the contents of the alleged seditious letter.

He said he put into the letter whatever information he collected and was told by people on the streets.

He said the letter highlighted that there should be a national reconciliation done Fiji wide to solve all the ill feelings among citizens.

Waqabaca said in his interview that this was in regards to the debts that our grandchildren would have to pay, “because all these debts are now securities to all those countries who gave money to Fiji ”.

He mentioned in his letter that another concern was that Muslims could take Fiji because it happened in Bangladesh.

“Some places in Fiji are now freehold like Namena, Lodoni, Dawasamu and some places in the 14 provinces,” the caution interview said.

“We are talking about the Maori and the Abo but we are not concerned with the problem we are facing now.”

Waqabaca said that was the heart of his letter and suggested that it could also be the foundation of change within the Government.

He testified that he started writing letters for the Nai Lalakai after the 2014 election and would deliver his letters to Ravula every Monday at The Fiji Times office.

In his letter Waqabaca also acknowledged people who had gathered at the Fijian Teachers Association Hall on April 23, 2016.

During his caution interview he was asked, who organised that meeting, to which he responded that it was organised by the Fiji Native Tribal Congress.

He was then questioned as to who was in the position of leadership in the congress.

He responded saying he only knew Niko Nawaikula.

Waqabaca said during his interview that he was not aware that his letter could cause communal discord or that it was against the Government.

Cross-examination by Aman Ravindra-Singh

Inspector Nadolo told Mr Ravindra-Singh that he called Waqabaca on July 14, 2016.

He said he did not pick up any names of persons of interest mentioned in the letter and he did not obtain a copy of the petition to the Attorney-General which is mentioned in the letter.

Mr Ravindra-Singh asked Inspector Nadolo if a search warrant was issued to get a copy of the petition from the A-G’s Office, to which he said there was none.

He further stated that he had no idea what the contents of the petition were and that there was no official complaint received from the A-G.

However, Inspector Nadolo said he received a complaint from the Office of the President regarding the “Marshall report” which was sent to them by Waqabaca.

He said a separate investigation was being conducted regarding that complaint.

Mr Ravindra-Singh questioned the witness as to the importance of the Marshall Report in the letter as reference was being made to it by Waqabaca.

Inspector Nadolo replied saying he did not get a hold of the Marshall report at any time.

He said he was not sure whether the report would have shed more light on the contents of the letter had he procured a copy of it.

Mr Ravindra-Singh put to the Inspector that a part of the investigation regarding the case was incomplete, to which Inspector Nadolo said the investigation was completed without the Marshall report.

Inspector Nadolo was asked if the Fiji Police Force received any complaints from the general public apart from Mr Katonitabua about the published letter causing public discord or communal antagonism.

He said it was not brought to their attention adding that the report from the Permanent Secretary was the only report they received.

He said he did not receive any complaints about the letter having a tendency to promote feelings of ill-will, promoting hostility between different classes of population or between non-Muslims and Muslims in Fiji.

Mr Ravindra-Singh asked Inspector Nadolo if there was a law that one needs to ask for advice from the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs before talking about iTaukei issues.

He said there was no law, however he was of the belief that before discussing certain iTaukei issues one needed to seek the ministry’s advice.

Furthermore, Mr Ravindra-Singh questioned Inspector Nadolo if as a citizen Waqabaca had a right to talk about iTaukei grievances like land issues.

Inspector Nadolo replied saying, “maybe” before agreeing that the letter did not state that, “we must hate Muslims” or “remove Muslims from Fiji”.

Cross-examination by Marc Corlett QC

Inspector Nadolo was questioned by Mr Corlett if Ravula, Wesley and Arts were arrested because of a letter written by Waqabaca to which he said they were.

Mr Corlett asked the witness to provide a copy of the letter of complaint which he received from the President’s Office.

The same is expected to be produced today and if need be Mr Corlett will cross examine Inspector Nadolo further in court.

Hank Arts caution interview

Inspector Nadolo told the court that Arts was caution interviewed on July 18, 2016 by a colleague of his and he was arrested on August 17, 2016.

He agreed that Arts could not read, understand or speak the iTaukei language.

He said Arts was arrested because he was the publisher of the Nai Lalakai.

Mr Corlett questioned the Inspector as to what investigation was done by him or his colleagues to determine whether Arts had ever seen the letter before it was published.

He responded saying he was not sure whether Arts had seen the letter prior to being taken to the CID HQ.

He then went on to say that between his date of interview and his time of arrest they did not do anything to investigate and determine whether Arts had seen the letter prior to it being published.

Fred Wesley

The Court heard in evidence that Wesley exercised his right to make no comments during his caution interview on July 7, 2016.

Inspector Nadolo agreed with Mr Corlett that from the time of Wesley’s caution interview and the day he was arrested none of the officers made any enquiries whether he had ever seen the letter before it was published.

Translation

The third witness to give evidence was High Court assistant court officer Ratu Mara Seru Cakobau who said he received the letter and the Nai Lalakai copy.

And he was instructed by a senior court officer to translate it from iTaukei to English on December 5, 2017.

He said after receiving the documents there was a brainstorming session between four of them before they translated it.

The witness said after they had translated the documents, amendments were done by three other court officers.

Mr Clarke questioned the witness if he held any formal qualification to be a translator to which he responded that he did not.

Mr Cakobau told Mr Clarke that they had a brainstorming session upon receipt of the documents because they had differing opinions of what the words in the letter meant.

The last Prosecution witness that gave evidence was Magistrates Court assistant court officer Eseta Cakau.

Ms Cakau confirmed that she was one of the officers who translated the letter in the High Court registry.

She said they translated the documents line by line and the translation was the full and accurate version of the article.

Ms Cakau testified that the iTaukei language had differing meanings and they had endeavoured to use the simplest English terms to translate the documents so that non-iTaukei speakers could understand it.

No case to answer

Mr Ravindra-Singh indicated at 7pm last night that he would be advancing an application for a no case to answer today.

The trial continues today before Justice Thushara Rajasinghe.

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