Fiji: Statement from family of arrested opposition politician

January 14, 2012

The following statement was issued by the family of Mere Samisoni, arrested by the Fijian military regime, and later released on bail on January 3. For more information, please contact .

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The family of award-winning Fijian businesswoman and former MP Dr Mere Samisoni has been warned by her lawyers she might be charged with conspiracy by the country’s military rulers when the courts reopen on Tuesday.

The 74-year-old grandmother of eleven would be one of the last to be prosecuted under the draconian Public Emergency Regulation (PER) which Frank Bainimarama, the military strongman turned prime minister, announced yesterday (January 1) would be scrapped later this week.

Dr Samisoni was arrested on December 30 under the PER which permits security forces to hold someone without charge for 7 days and use whatever force is deemed necessary. The decree also muzzles media reporting and most aspects of civic society.

Dr Samisoni, who founded the popular 30-store Hot Bread Kitchen chain before turning to politics where she won the Lami Open ward for the party of prime minister Laisenia Qarase, deposed in Bainimarama’s December 2006 coup, has been held in Suva’s infamous Central Police Station over the long New Year’s weekend.

Daughter Vanessa Charters, speaking on the family’s behalf, said they had been told that Dr Samisoni had allegedly made a confession:

‘At this moment in time we aren’t sure what this alleged confession relates to but we do know for a fact, we have had it independently verified, that Mum’s lawyer was not present at the time of this so-called confession,’ said Vanessa.

‘In any normal court of law this so-called confession should not be worth the paper it is written on,’ said Vanessa.

Dr Samisoni has won widespread acclaim as one of the few successful female indigenous entrepreneurs in the socially conservative Pacific and has addressed World Bank and International Finance Corporation audiences on business leadership.

The PER decree was introduced in April 2009 following a Fiji Court of Appeal decision that ruled Bainimarama’s regime was illegal. In the aftermath of this, the country’s 1997 constitution was abrogated, PER introduced, and Bainimarama now rules Fiji by decree.

In a New Year address though Bainimarama said the PER would be lifted by this Saturday January 7 but that ‘public order is to be maintained’, without giving any details.

The grip that Fiji’s military leadership has on the country is being increasingly tested by severe economic hardship with GDP growth at the end of 2011 less than one percent and inflation at 9 percent. According to the Fiji government’s own statistics more than a third of the country live below the poverty line and in rural areas since the 2006 coup more than two out of every five of the population survive on less than F$5 a day.

In a recent World Bank survey Fiji was relegated 25 places in only two years and is now ranked 77th of 183 countries in terms of ‘Ease of Doing Business’.

Increasingly the military-led government has tried to jump start the economy by focussing on a series of lucrative but deeply divisive initiatives including the country’s first ever casino, a F$290 million project to be built near Nadi featuring 500 slot machines and more than 60 gaming tables.

Last month a controversial copper mine project in the interior province of Namosi – said to be worth a F$1 billion – prompted widespread displays of public anger from many local villagers despite the ban on unsanctioned protests under the PER.

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