News was released this week about some appalling bashings that occurred then some escaped prisoners were re-captured. The video evidence shows some pretty rough justice, and from our Westernised point of view looks pretty bad.
I didn’t blog anything about it at the time because I wanted to talk to my contacts in Fiji, both in business and the general community about the background to the escape…and the background of the people in the video.
Justice in Fiji is a wee bit rougher than what we would expect. But this was over the top, but when you put in some perspective about the Naboro prison escape in September 2012 you can understand the anger and retribution. That by no means justifies it, but it simply provides perspective.
The Fiji Sun at the time wrote about the escape and the crime wave throughout Suva that resulted:
Five violent criminals who escaped from Naboro prison on Monday were yesterday being hunted in a massive joint operation by Police and Corrections officers.
Police were trying to establish if the escapees were involved in a spate of robberies in Suva after their escape, Police spokesperson Ana Naisoro said.
CRIME IN SUVA
Ms Naisoro said on Monday at 10.50pm, a black Hyundai eight-seater van was reported stolen from Lower Ragg Avenue in Tamavua, Suva.
At 12.30am a group of men robbed the Wishbone Restaurant in Centrepoint and stole the cash register.
A report was then received from Muanikau where a group of men forcefully broke into a home and stole items worth at least $3900.
Half an hour later a group of masked men armed with pinch bars and bottles entered and threatened the staff of the Peninsula Hotel in MacGregor Road, Suva, and stole items from the reception area worth $329.
The escapees are listed by the Corrections Service as:
- Isoa Waqa, 30, of Waitovu, Ovalau, who is serving eight years for robbery with violence;
- Solomoni Qurai, 28, of Tavuki, Kadavu, who is serving a life sentence for murder and was also convicted of burglary;
- Tevita Sugu, 29, of Tavuki, Kadavu, who is serving 13 years for aggravated robbery;
- Josaia Usumaki, 25, of Nakasaleka, Kadavu, who is serving 26 years for robbery with violence and related offences;
- and Epeli Qaraniqio, 30, of Lamiti, Gau, who is serving eight years for robbery with violence and related offences.
These were not same nice passers-by out for astroll set up and beaten up, they were hardened criminals who ended up on the wrong side of some angry coppers. That doesn’t mean it was justified, far from it, it just explains why things happen with a bit of background.
Graham Davis, from Grubsheet provides a view that I agree with also:
Few people with access to the Internet can have failed to be shocked and distressed at the extraordinary video that emerged this week of two recaptured Fijian prison escapees being ill-treated by their captors. The clip that has appeared on local television is a sanitised version of the original, which at the time of writing has been viewed almost 60,000 times on YouTube. It isn’t just the violence unleashed on the escapees and the degrading treatment to which they were subjected. Many people have been equally disturbed that their captors were taunting them, laughing at them and recording their ordeal on their mobile phones.
Yes, these individuals are violent, hardened criminals who had escaped from lawful custody and can hardly have expected to be garlanded when they were eventually tracked down. Some comments left on Facebook and certain blog sites express the sentiment that they were simply getting what they deserve. Doubtless many ordinary Fijians are fed up with the kind of lawlessness that saw much of Suva terrorised during the Naboro Prison mass breakout last September. They want a tough response against law-breakers and especially home invaders. Yet, equally, nothing can justify the abuse these recaptured prisoners suffered – something that the police themselves have acknowledged by expressing their own disquiet and announcing an investigation. It may not have been as bad as some human rights abuses in other parts of the world but that’s not the point.
This is Fiji and we generally don’t see ourselves in this way. That’s why there’s been such shock and revulsion across the community – people saying that it made them cry and they couldn’t sleep – which is an encouraging sign of the moral state of the nation in itself.
Yet the fact is that police brutality occurs the world over. Bad things happen in good countries. This week, the Sydney police have been under fire for using excessive force as they made drug-related arrests during the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. In South Africa in recent days, there’s been an outcry after a man was killed when police allegedly dragged him behind a car. The shock of these incidents is understandably heightened when they are recorded, especially in this age of instant postings on Facebook or YouTube. Yet even before this, there was global outrage when vision was released in 1991 of Los Angeles police beating the black American Rodney King. That incident is still etched in many memories 22 years later. Will it be the same in Fiji with this video?
Probably not Graham, Rodney King was an innocent, and suffered a horrific beating. These guys were rapacious and brutal thugs who had done similar to other innocents.
Fiji will recover from this, the Police will find and prosecute those responsible, and the country will move on. But Graham Davis raises an important issue, one which really gets to the nub of the issue:
Yet it’s also time for a wider debate about the general culture of violence that has always existed in Fiji and how to break it. Because one thing links both the victims and the perpetrators in the video in question. And that is that they’ve grown up in a country in which summary violence is often the norm rather than the exception. And, as we all know, violence invariably begets violence.
It’s a fair bet that everyone in that clip was raised as a child to expect a “hiding” – the traditional form of discipline in most Fijian homes for even relatively minor infractions. We’ve all copped it pretty much irrespective of background. Did we harbor resentment against our parents for getting a belting or a cuffing? Usually not. And at school, corporal punishment was routine until relatively recently – the strap or the cane on the hand or the backside the traditional means of enforcing discipline. It was all designed to instill fear and deter us from repeating the particular offence. Did it work? Only sometimes. But it’s inarguable that it instilled in many of us the notion that violence is an acceptable way of keeping social order. And it also made us – to a lesser or greater extent – inured to violence and more likely to resort to it ourselves. Children were beaten, wives were beaten, fists used whenever disputes arose. Indeed violence has been distressingly routine in some families and unfortunately it still occurs in far too many Fijian homes. The Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, has acknowledged as much by waging a personal campaign against the mistreatment of women in the men in their lives.
Fiji does have a rough kind of justice, and we always look through the lens of a comfortable first world nation. Worse that lens is blurred by journalists, often, deliberately who are conducting their own agenda against Fiji. This story was released and designed as an attempt to smear the government. We know this because Michael Field and Coup 4.5 ran it.
One day, hopefully soon, our media will stop repeating item verbatim from people who are not even in Fiji and instead do proper background and research on the issues and environment before committing to anything in writing. Unfortunately Michael Field runs his own version of the lynch mob and has a newspaper to back him up. That is a tragedy for Fiji and for our media.
Phil Goff, naturally, has pounced on the issue and laughably claimed that these beatings may make tourists stay away from Fiji. Quite how the Police beating up escaped prisoners will stop tourists travelling to Fiji is beyond me but then again Phil Goff can’t even remember he has had briefings with the SIS, so almost anything goes with him. Tourists generally look for places where the Police dispense rough justice on criminals, it makes it safer for them.
Goff is now wanting parliament to condemn the beatings. Yet when he was trade minister he ran off to cut deals with China, Burma, and many Islamic nations including Pakistan where this sort of thing occurs regularly and without parliament condemning them.
Indeed Prime Minister John Key is currently on a trade mission to South America, where many of the countries he is talking to have less than stellar human rights records.
New Zealand really needs to stop interfering and telling Fiji off for every little transgression that is highlighted by a compliant media intent on manipulating the internal politics of Fiji.