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Army 'beat me'

FREDERICA ELBOURNE
Monday, May 14, 2007

BUSINESSMAN and information technology specialist Ulaiasi Taoi says he was punched and kicked by eight soldiers while he was kept overnight at the military camp.

He was arrested and detained over allegations that he was involved in anti-military blogs on the Internet.

Mr Taoi was held in a cell at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks for 24 hours after soldiers escorted him from his office in Toorak about 2pm last Friday.

The military took him over its suspicions that he was behind one of the resistance blog sites that have been very vocal against the takeover. He had earlier had a "heavy" and "very abusive" telephone exchange with Colonel Pita Driti in which he was blamed for instigating the blog sites.

He was also suspected to have had links to a blog site that called for civil servants to silently demonstrate their anti-takeover stand by taking sick leave on May 1.

Last night Colonel Driti said he was aware of Mr Taoi's interrogation which happened while he was away in Nadi on Friday.

He assured he did not order any attacks on Mr Taoi.

"They must have pressured him to give evidence," he said.

Reliving his detainment yesterday, Mr Taoi said on his arrival at the camp, his picture was taken before he was ordered to strip to his underwear. He did as instructed and was then locked in a cell.

He said moments later a senior officer appeared with two soldiers and he immediately questioned the officer.

There was a heated exchange, during which the senior officer was verbally abusive.

The interrogation continued late into the night with lots of soldiers asking forceful questions, he recalled.

"Soldiers kept coming in turns, asking me if I spoke angrily to Driti, and why I was rude to a Lieutenant Colonel that had been there earlier. "I think they were trying to break me down. This continued all night. I'd get a cat nap, but every five minutes I'd have to get up and start talking all over again."

The line of questioning, he said, was largely about the objectives and membership of the Fiji Indigenous Business Council, including the residential addresses of members.

Soldiers also asked him if he was related to deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and why the council supported the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua.

He said soldiers took his laptop computer and mobile phone to try to determine the allegations of his involvement in the blog sites, but Mr Taoi said they were unable to.

"I told them if I was behind the blog I would honestly admit it, but I was not the man they were looking for," he said.

"They couldn't open my laptop so I did and I showed them. There was no proof," Mr Taoi said.

He said the senior military officer who quizzed him outside his cell wanted to know what Mr Taoi had done for his province, for himself and for his country.

"I said I had a business, I employ 10 people, I am head of the business council and contributed to the economy," Mr Taoi said.

Around 10pm, he was summoned outside his cell where he was given his pants before eight soldiers in balaclava, green T-shirts, black pants and boots took turns at kicking and punching him.

"The good thing is I was psyched up and knew what to expect. They knew where to punch and they seemed to be using the palms of their hands. They wore balaclavas, green T-shirts and back pants as if they were going jogging, except for their boots," he said.

He was "shoved" back into the cell 20 minutes later where the "group leader" held his face with one hand and called him a culprit amongst other things.

Mr Taoi refused to repeat what he was called by the soldiers, but said even after he was locked up again in the cell, soldiers continued to ask him questions about the council throughout the night.

At 8am on Saturday, soldiers ordered him to remove his underwear and he was kept naked in the cell until midday. He said he had shared one lighthearted moment with the soldiers when he asked if any women walked the corridors close to his cell.

"At around midday, I started getting cold and asked them to return my underwear. My faith in God, the prayers of my family and the song I sang quietly in the cell ...He's able," carried me through. I prayed for a miracle. I said God, I need a miracle when I meet Driti. I said please show me a miracle," Mr Taoi said.

At 2pm, Colonel Driti walked into the cell, sat on the floor with Mr Taoi and apologised for what happened earlier.

"I expected him to grab a chair from outside, but he sat on the floor

He said he and Col. Driti parted in good terms, following a lengthy discussion on the floor in the cell and a prayer they shared.

"We shook hands and parted ways," Mr Taoi said.

He said in retrospect he believed the military should have better things to do because judging from what he heard soldiers say outside the corridor of the cell, the military lacked focus and discipline.





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