Fiji: new torture report ten years on from military coup shows 'dark side of paradise'

The country's paradise image belies a much darker truth © Vlad Sokhin
Report documents five cases where people were beaten to death in custody
 
Men accused of robbing a shop had crushed chilies rubbed on their bodies, water poured in their ears, rocks dropped on their backs 
 
One man had to have his leg amputated following a severe beating 
 
‘This report shows the dark side of paradise. If Fiji wants to preserve its reputation as a Pacific island nation renowned for its natural beauty, it must end the ugly practices of its security officials’ - Kate Schuetze
 
Over a decade on from the 2006 military coup in Fiji, an engrained culture of torture has taken hold among the security forces with no justice even when suspects are beaten to death, according to a new Amnesty International report published today.
 
The report, which marks the tenth anniversary of the military coup that brought Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama to power, details cases involving fatal and severe beatings, rape and other sexual violence, attacks by police dogs, injuries resulting in a leg amputation, shootings and other forms of torture inflicted by uniformed officers. It documents five cases where people were beaten to death in custody.
 
The 33-page report - Beating Justice: How Fiji’s Security Forces Get Away with Torture shows how the Fijian military remains in control of key institutions including the police as well as the militarisation of the justice system, allowing torture and other ill-treatment to go unpunished.
 
Details of torture have often been suppressed by the authorities, only to come to light after videos and autopsy reports have been leaked online. In February 2013, a video received global media attention after it was leaked on YouTube, showing security officers beating and sexually assaulting a half-naked man in the back of a truck. In the film Iowane Benedito, who had apparently earlier escaped from prison, can be seen being kicked and beaten with sticks and pipes and sexually assaulted with his hands cuffed behind his back. Another man is being dragged along the ground by a large dog while officers can be heard laughing.
 
Despite the wide attention attracted by the video, two years passed before an investigation was opened into the incident. In October 2015 three police officers and two military officers were charged with offences related to Mr Bnedito’s assault. One of the military officers involved is a former bodyguard to Prime Minister Bainimarama.  All the officers are still awaiting trial.
 
The government not only refused to condemn the torture, but publicly promised unequivocal support to the officers seen carrying out the abuse. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who is also the former Commander of the Royal Fiji Military, said: 
 
“At the end of the day, I will stick by my men, by the police officers or anyone else that might be named in this investigation. We cannot discard them just because they've done their duty in looking after the security of this nation, making sure we sleep peacefully at night."
 
Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher, said:
 
“This report shows the dark side of paradise.
 
“If Fiji wants to preserve its reputation as a Pacific island nation renowned for its natural beauty, it must end the ugly practices of its security officials.
 
“Not only do the security forces know that torture is taking place, they have stood in the way of accountability. 
 
“To rid Fiji of torture, the authorities should withdraw the armed forces from policing tasks and the military should not be above the law.”
 

Beaten, raped and killed

Beatings are among the most common form of torture and other ill-treatment used by the Fijian security forces. In October, Prime Minister Bainimarama said in a speech that the culture of “what we call the buturaki – the beating – is deeply ingrained in parts of the Fijian psyche”.
 
In five separate cases listed in the report, beatings were so severe that the suspects later died of their injuries. In several cases the victims were also subjected to rape or sexual assault. Vilikesa Soko, a 30-year-old man and father of three, was beaten, raped and killed in August 2014.  Vilikesa Soko was a suspect in a robbery. After his arrest, he was interrogated, tortured and hospitalised for serious injuries. Four days later he died of a blood clot in his lung caused by multiple traumatic injuries including to his rectum and penis, according to an autopsy report leaked online.
 
Sakiusa Rabaka died from his injuries in January 2007. He was just 19-years-old when he was severely beaten, sexually assaulted, and forced to perform military exercises while in custody. Eight police officers and one military officer were subsequently charged with Rabaka’s manslaughter. However, the military tried to send the accused military officer overseas on a UN Peacekeeping mission so that he could avoid standing trial. In 2009 all the officers were tried and convicted, but just a month into their four-year sentences the Prisons Commissioner released them.
 

Coerced confessions and threats

In a series of cases highlighted in the report, the courts found that threats and violence have been used to intimidate and coerce confessions. In one case, five men accused of robbing a shop in Nadi, a city on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, had crushed chilies rubbed on their bodies, water poured in their ears, rocks dropped on their backs and were beaten until they confessed.
 
Lawyers who represent torture survivors have also come under attack. Aman Singh, a lawyer for an internet café owner Rajneel Singh, has seen his client attacked in his home this year, by two unknown men who tried to strangle him and fired a gun at him. Since he took up the case, Aman Singh, who is an outspoken critic of the government, has had his office broken into twice while his associates have been attacked.
 

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