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‘Poisonous Narrative Given Oxygen Of Publicity’

‘Poisonous Narrative Given Oxygen Of Publicity’
Nai Lalakai column or letter writer Josaia Waqabaca
May 01
10:56 2018

By publishing the poisonous narrative, Nai Lalakai newspaper publisher Hank Arts gave the article the oxygen of publicity, says the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Lee Burney.

Mr Burney was referring to the alleged seditious article, which was published on page seven of the Nai Lalakai newspaper April 27, 2016 edition.

The trial began yesterday for the Fiji Times, executives and a column or letter writer who face charges of sedition.

Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley

Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley

Fiji Times Publisher Hank Arts.

Fiji Times Publisher Hank Arts.

Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula.

Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula.

The accused are Nai Lalakai column writer Josaia Waqabaca, Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula, Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley, Fiji Times Publisher Hank Arts and The Fiji Times company.

During his opening address to the three trial assessors, Mr Burney said words could be a force for good, but in the wrong hands it can be a force for evil, hate and division.

“At the heart of this case is a judgment about the power of words to influence how ordinary people think. Words are just as powerful as actions,” Mr Burney said.

He said the alleged seditious publication caused ordinary Fijians to feel ill-will and hostility towards their Muslim brothers and sisters.

“It is a clear case because the words are obviously hateful. The gist of the article was that Muslims are land grabbing monsters who rape and murder the women and abuse children,” he said.

Mr Burney encouraged the assessors to use their experience as respected members of the community when forming an opinion on the case.

He said the language used in the article was extremely inflammatory and could lead to public disorder.

Mr Burney mentioned that the fact that the item was published in the Letters to the Editor section of the newspaper carried no significance because it was a carefully crafted journalistic piece.

“The letter was not complaining about pot holes or wishing the Fiji 7s team good luck in the Hong Kong 7s, rather it was a carefully crafted journalistic piece.”

He said Arts was a highly paid senior executive of the company with overall responsibility of every aspect of the newspaper.

He said Arts’ contract reflects his extensive duties and responsibilities because he was, “the boss, the top man,” who was subject only to reporting to the company’s Board of Directors.

Mr Burney also said that Ravula, and Wesley assisted and encouraged Arts to publish the article.

In respect to count five, Mr Burney said the Fiji Times company was separately charged for printing the seditious article adding that the company must be taken to have authorised the printing of the article.

First witness

The first Prosecution witness to give evidence under oath was the Permanent Secretary for i-Taukei Affairs Naipote Katonitabua who is the complainant in the matter.

Mr Katonitabua was appointed as PS in February, 2016 and his duties and responsibilities were to look after the welfare and wellbeing of the iTaukei communities including the 14 provinces and the 1171 villages in Fiji.

He said they advocated policies of Government that safeguard and uphold iTaukei culture and tradition so that they were well informed of Government programmes available to them.

Mr Katonitabua said prior to joining the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs he did public relations work at the Office of the Prime Minister and his current duty includes the objective of disseminating accurate information to iTaukei communities.

He said during visits by the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs to iTaukei communities, members were asked if they had any issues they wanted to raise.

He said continued concerns were then raised to them about sensitive issues such as iTaukei land and citizenary.

He testified that when villagers were questioned about the source of their concerns, the team was told that they read it in the Nai Lalakai.

Mr Katonitabua said iTaukei communities read the Nai Lalakai newspaper on a weekly basis as their major source of information.

He was quoted as saying that in iTaukei rural communities, “beside the Holy Bible you will see the Nai Lalakai.”.

Mr Katonitabua said it was a very difficult task for them to clarify to members of the community that the information they were reading was only an opinion published by a newspaper.

He said most people believed what they read to be factual, which was a major concern for the ministry.

He testified that the Nai Lalakai was the only iTaukei newspaper which was circulated in the interior of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu and the outer maritime islands.

The court heard that the alleged seditious article was not the only article that the ministry was concerned about.

Mr Katonitabua said he had to interfere because of the misinformation included in the articles.

He said the matter was reported to the Police, after correspondence made to the newspaper company for clarification on certain sensitive issues proved futile.

Cross Examination by Aman

Ravindra-Singh

Mr Ravindra-Singh questioned Mr Katonitabua when was the first time the misinformation published in the Nai Lalakai was brought to his attention.

Mr Katonitabua responded saying he was made aware in 2015 while he was still with the PM’s Office.

However, he said no action was taken at the time.

Mr Katonitabua told the court that he reported the alleged seditious article to the Police on June 28, 2016 when his statement was recorded.

He said the decision to report the matter was that no steps were taken by Fiji Times to clarify the issues raised in the article.

Mr Ravindra-Singh asked him if he received any reactions or concerns from members of the public about the article from the date when it was published to the date when he reported the matter to the Police.

Mr Katonitabua said the concerns were entered into the ministry records with contact numbers.

When asked if the Minister for iTaukei Affairs had approved the decision to report the matter to the Police, Mr Katonibau said, “no”.

A copy of the article was given to the witness and he was asked to point out the parts which had misinformation.

Mr Katonitabua said at least five of the sections in the letter contained misinformation.

The witness agreed with Mr Ravindra-Singh that people practising the Muslim, Hindu and Christian faith were not indigenous to Fiji, though iTaukei practised Christianity which came later to Fiji.

Mr Katonitabua told Mr Ravindra-Singh that he was not an expert when it came to Asia and he had no information that Bangladesh was formed out of India.

Mr Ravindra-Singh put to Mr Katonitabua that in the article Waqabaca was referring to a time when Bangladesh became a separate state from India.

The witness responded that he did not agree and he did not have information about the same.

Mr Katonitabua agreed with Mr Ravindra-Singh that there were no words in the article which made reference to Muslims in Fiji murdering, raping and torturing women and children.

However, Mr Katonitabua referred to the last paragraph of the article and disagreed with Mr Ravindra-Singh that there was no reference made that people should hate Muslims and throw them out of Fiji.

Mr Katonitabua added that there were no words as such however there were a few paragraphs contained within the article which were interconnected to that.

He also said that only one religion was mentioned in the article.

Justice Rajasinghe questioned the witness that from the words of the article, no where did it mention that Fijians should hate Muslims.

Mr Katonitabua agreed.

Cross Examination by Devanesh Sharma

Mr Sharma asked Mr Katonitabua what reconciliation meant to him.

Mr Katonitabua replied that it meant two parties need to agree through consultations and dialogue.

He testified that the Letters to the Editor contained opinion pieces written by members of the public based on subjects they wish to raise.

He said according to his sources Waqabaca was an indigenous activist.

Mr Sharma asked Mr Katonitabua to look through the April 27, 2016 edition of the Nai Lalakai and see if Waqabaca’s letter was given any prominence on the front page.

Mr Katonitabua responded saying the letter was only published in the Letters to the Editor column, however he said that any information provided to the public was tied with responsibility.

He agreed with Mr Sharma that it was the fundamental right of every citizen to express their own views and they did not have to agree with government policies.

Mr Katonitabua agreed with Mr Sharma that when Waqabaca suggested national reconciliation in his article to the Attorney- General he recommended dialogue to address certain issues.

He said the core issues addressed in the article alleged national debt, the alienation of indigenous Fijian land from the 14 provinces and the taking away of cultural identity.

Mr Sharma asked Mr Katonitabua to identify the words in the article which said Muslims were monsters.

He responded that it was not mentioned in the article.

He also testified that the article made no mention that Muslims in Fiji had murdered and raped women and tortured children.

He further agreed with Mr Sharma that the article did not suggest banning the worship of Islam in Fiji or prevention of Muslims from holding prominent positions in the country.

Mr Sharma put to the witness that there were numerous other iTaukei mediums available to members of the rural communities like iTaukei radio talkback shows and iTaukei television programmes.

Mr Katonitabua said the elderly in the respective communities preferred the iTaukei newspaper, which was the Nai Lalakai.

When asked about the email correspondence between him and the company, Mr Katonitabua said he was aware that a correspondence had taken place.

However, he was not sure if he still had copies of the email because he had changed secretaries since then.

He agreed with Mr Sharma that the words in the article did not encourage the government to implement any form of discrimination against Muslims.

He also agreed that the letter contained opinions expressed by Waqabaca.

Marc Corlett QC who is representing Wesley and Arts indicated that he had no questions for Mr Katonitabua.

 

 

What Fiji Times Trial is about: The Charges

On the first count of sedition, between April 20 and 27 of 2016, Waqabaca is alleged to have done a seditious act, namely submitted an article written by him under the heading “Sa notisi taki na Vunilawa” translated as “Notice to the Attorney-General” for publication in the Nai Lalakai newspaper, with a seditious intention to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Fiji, namely between non-Muslim and Muslims.

On the second count Ravula is charged with aiding and abetting sedition. On or about April 27, 2016 Ravula is alleged to have aided and abetted Hank Arts to publish an article under the heading “Lewa ni Notisitaki” translated as “Order on Notice” in the Nai Lalakai newspaper published on April 27, 2016, which was a seditious publication in that it had a tendency to promote ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Fiji, namely between non-Muslim and Muslims (‘the said seditious publication’).

The charge read that as the editor of Nai Lalakai newspaper Ravula was allegedly under a contractual duty to assist Hank Arts to publish the April 27, 2016 edition of Nai Lalakai newspaper.

This is by ensuring editorial standards were maintained, including a duty to prevent the publication of any seditious publication therein.

And his failure to prevent the publication of the said seditious publication aided and abetted Hank Arts to publish the said seditious publication.

On the third count of aiding and abetting sedition it is alleged that on or about April 27, 2016 Fred Wesley aided and abetted Arts to publish an article under the heading “Lewa ni Notisitaki” translated as “Order on Notice” in the Nai Lalakai newspaper published on April 27, 2016. This was a seditious publication in that it had a tendency to promote ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Fiji, namely between non-Muslim and Muslims (‘the said seditious publication’).

As the editor-in-chief of Nai Lalakai newspaper Wesley was allegedly under a contractual duty to assist Arts to publish the April 27, 2016 edition of Nai Lalakai newspaper by ensuring editorial standards were maintained, including a duty to prevent the publication of any seditious publication therein.

And his failure to prevent the publication of the said seditious publication aided and abetted Arts to publish the said seditious publication.

On the fourth count Arts is charged with sedition. On April 27, 2016 as the publisher of Nai Lalakai newspaper he allegedly published an article under the heading “Lewa ni Notistaki” translated “Order of Notice” in the April 27, 2016 edition of the Nai Lalakai newspaper.

This was a seditious publication in that it had a tendency to promote ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Fiji, namely between Non-Muslim and Muslims.

For the fifth count of sedition, Fiji Times Limited, being a company having its registered office at 177 Victoria Parade, Suva, and as the printer of Nai Lalakai newspaper, allegedly printed the April 27, 2016 edition of the Nai Lalakai newspaper, which contained an article under the heading “Lewa ni Notistaki” translated as “Order on Notice”.

This was a seditious publication in that it had a tendency to promote ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Fiji, namely between non-Muslim and Muslims.

The lawyers

Assistant DPP Lee Burney is representing the State assisted by State lawyers Yogesh Prasad and Unaisi Tamanikaiyaroi.

Waqabaca is represented by Aman Ravindra-Singh, Ravula is represented by Devanesh Sharma, Wesley and Arts are represented by Marc Corlett and Nicholas Barnes and the Fiji Times company is represented by Wylie Clarke.

Edited by Percy Kean

Feedback: fonua.talei@fijisun.com.fj

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