WELLINGTON: Amnesty International has called for Fiji’s former leader Laisenia Qarase to be freed from prison, accusing the country’s military regime of using politically motivated charges to silence its critics.
Qarase, Fiji’s last elected prime minister and ousted in a 2006 coup, was jailed for a year after being convicted earlier this month on corruption charges dating back to the early 1990s. Amnesty’s Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said the 71-year-old was only one of a number of opposition figures brought before the courts in Fiji, which is due to hold its first elections since the coup in 2014.
“It appears that a number of people have been charged with criminal charges and that those charges are politically motivated,” she told AFP from London in a telephone interview late Thursday.
“It does seem like there is a pattern and the concern is that freedom of expression is not being respected in Fiji.”
Another former elected leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, who became Fiji’s first ethnic Indian prime minister in 1999 but was deposed in a coup a year later, is due to stand trial on charges of breaching foreign exchange laws.
Schuetze said other government critics before the courts included trade union leader Daniel Urai, accused of sedition, and businesswoman Mere Samsoni, a grandmother in her 70s charged with plotting to overthrow the government.