A much delayed sedition trial has concluded in Fiji, with 14 of 16 defendants sentenced to as much as three years in jail. The defendants tried to establish a breakaway Christian state. We have more from Neal Conan in today's Pacific News Minute.
Two years ago, dozens were arrested, amid reports of secret military training bases supervised by a mysterious British Army veteran. In the end 16 people went on trial; one received a suspended sentence, another was acquitted. The most damning evidence - documents, including what amounted to a Declaration of Independence for a Christian state called Ra, and a petition to the International Court of Justice on Ra's behalf.
There were no mercenaries on trial; High Court Judge Aruba Aluthge described the defendants as educated people of the community. "Most were former civil servants and people looked up to them," he said.
"Their actions could have caused disaffection or discontent against the elected government. " And, the Judge added, "They knew what they were doing when they signed the documents."
Defense lawyer Ravindra Singh said the defendants maintain their innocence. "They continue to believe that they have a right to champion and advocate for the rights of indigenous people, the rights of indigenous land and indigenous issues,“ he said. He also said he plans to file an appeal.
Another sedition case is pending in Fiji - The Fiji Times and three senior officers stand accused of publishing an anti-Muslim letter that might incite violence...the writer of the letter is also faces a sedition charge.