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Judge Acquits All In Fiji Times Case

Judge Acquits All In Fiji Times Case
Lawyer Nicholas Barnes (left), with The Fiji Times Publisher Hank Arts outside the High Court on May 22, 2018. Photo: Ronald Kumar
May 23
11:29 2018

The court found that there was no evidence to establish that the letter had ever gone to Mr Arts or that he had known about it before it was published in the Nai Lalakai on April 27, 2016

The Fiji Times Publisher Hank Arts labelled yesterday’s High Court judg­ment as a “victory for the press and for the media in Fiji.”

Mr Arts was acquitted of a charge of sedi­tion alongside his co-accused Nai Lalakai column writer Josaia Waqabaca, Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula, The Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley and Fiji Times Limited.

Justice Thushara Rajasinghe delivered his judgment in a jam-packed courtroom yester­day, afternoon and concurred with the asses­sors not guilty opinions.

He said he could not find any compelling reasons to disregard the assessors’ opinions.

In an interview outside court, Mr Arts said: “We should now be encouraged to keep going the way we have been and stay within the law and report honestly with balance and with­out fear.”

Mr Arts said two years in and out of court was very difficult and tough on them person­ally, for the business and for their families.

Mr Wesley acknowledged the support and prayers they received from around the coun­try and said, “in terms of editorial we will continue doing what we are doing. We are not pro-government, we are not anti-govern­ment, we will adhere to the guidelines set by the Media Decree and we will move on.”

The prosecution alleged that if taken into consideration in its entirety, the letter says that Muslims are land-grabbing monsters who rape, murder and abuse children.

It alleged that the letter indicated that un­less Nai Lalakai readers take action, Mus­lims would take over Fiji just as they had done in Bangladesh.

Further, the prosecution said, the language used in the letter was extremely inflamma­tory and could lead to serious consequences involving public disorder, creating ill-will and hostility against Fijian Muslims.

On the contrary, the defence claimed that the letter had no such meaning. Instead it suggested national reconciliation to resolve issues that were important to indigenous Fi­jians, as it would cause great instability in the future.

Mr Wesley and Mr Arts also said that they had no knowledge about the letter, hence they had no intention or knowledge to com­mit the crime.

While delivering his judgment Justice Ra­jasinghe said it was clear that the letter spoke about Muslims in two separate instances.

He said the court had to determine how the references were being understood by a rea­sonable, sensible and fair minded iTaukei reader of Nai Lalakai within the full context of the letter.

He said the letter not only talked about Mus­lims, but also talks about some foreigners.

Justice Rajasinghe said although what Mus­lims did in Bangladesh was discussed in the letter there were no references or sugges­tions that it would happen in Fiji in the same manner.

He stated that one of Mr Waqabaca’s an­swers during his caution interview suggest­ed that he wanted to have a reconciliation in order to resolve all the ill feelings among citizens.

Mr Waqabaca said he compiled in the let­ter all of the issues of the people he heard from, namely issues of debt and the concern about Muslims taking over Fiji as happened in Bangladesh.

“This answer suggests that the intention of writing this letter was to propose to have a reconciliation in order to resolve all the ill feelings among citizens,” Justice Rajasinghe said.

He said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the letter, if tak­en into consideration in its entirety, had stated that Muslims were land grabbing monsters who raped, murdered and abused children and unless the readers of Nai Lalakai took action the Muslim monsters would take over Fiji.

Justice Rajasinghe added that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the letter had a tendency to create feelings of ill-will and hostility between Muslims and the non-Muslim population of Fiji.

The court heard that the prosecution only ten­dered Mr Arts’ employment contract to prove that he had the necessary intention to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between Mus­lims and the non-Muslim population in Fiji.

Investigating Officer Inspector Esili Nadolo admitted in his evidence that the Police did not conduct any investigation to confirm whether Mr Arts or Mr Wesley had ever known about the letter, had ever seen it or read it before it was published and printed.

Throughout the trial Mr Arts maintained that he never saw or read the letter.

This was supported by the evidence adduced by Mr Wesley and his three witnesses who tes­tified that Mr Arts had no influence on edito­rial matters.

Inspector Nadolo also stated that the Police accepted the fact that Mr Arts could not read or speak the iTaukei language.

Further the defence adduced evidence to es­tablish that The Fiji Times was very much con­cerned about its editorial standards and had made all possible efforts to avoid legal disputes in publishing.

The court found that there was no evidence to establish that the letter had ever gone to Mr Arts or that he had known about it before it was published in the Nai Lalakai on April 27, 2016.

Justice Rajasinghe said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that The Fiji Times had the necessary guilty inten­tion in printing the letter in the Nai Lalakai pursuant to Section 53 (1) (2) (a) and (b) of the Crimes Act.

He also said that he found no clause in Mr Wesley’s employment contract that imposed a duty on Mr Wesley to assist Mr Arts to main­tain editorial standards.

Justice Rajasinghe said he did not find any ev­idence to establish that Mr Wesley knew or was aware about the letter before it was published.

He said the evidence of Nai Lalakai layout artist Viliame Ravai confirmed that it was Mr Ravula who entered the letter into the Pongrass Publishing System and sent it for printing.

He stated that there was no evidence adduced by the prosecution to prove that Mr Wesley had an intention to aid and abet Mr Arts to publish the letter.

After carefully scrutinising the contents of Mr Ravula’s employment contract the court found that there was no clause which imposed a duty on Mr Ravula to assist Mr Arts to main­tain editorial standards.

Justice Rajasinghe said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the letter was seditious on the ground that it had a tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between Muslims and the non-Muslim population of Fiji.

While acquitting all the accused Justice Ra­jasinghe said the prosecution failed to prove that they were guilty for the offence they had been charged with.

Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Lee Burney said a decision on an appeal would be made after they read through the judgment.

Edited by Epineri Vula

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