Nai Lalakai trial: Witness gives evidence

Permanent secretary for iTaukei Affairs Naipote Katonitabua (left) outside the High Court in Suva during a break in the trial yesterday. Picture: JOVESA NAISUA

THE permanent secretary for iTaukei affairs told the High Court in Suva yesterday that he believed a controversial letter published in the Nai Lalakai newspaper could
cause Fiji to return to the “dark days” before Christianity.Mr Naipote Katonitabua made the comments yesterday while giving evidence in the Nai Lalakai trial, in which Fiji Times Ltd, the owner of The Fiji Times and Nai Lalakai
newspapers, and three of its officials are on trial for sedition.

Mr Katonitabua is a prosecution witness in the case. He complained to police about a letter from Josaia Waqabaca published in Nai Lalakai’s open column in April 2016.

Mr Waqabaca is also facing sedition-related charges. Mr Katonitabua told the Court that he had reported the content of the letter to police without first informing Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

Under crossexamination by Fiji Times Ltd counsel Wylie Clarke, Mr Katonitabua said he informed the PM verbally after he reported the matter to police.

Mr Katonitabua said the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs had a “media cell” which monitored the content of articles published in the media.

He said there were a lot of sensitive racial and religious issues highlighted in the Nai Lalakai newspaper but no appropriate actions had been taken.

He said after publication of Mr Waqabaca’s letter, the ministry conducted consultations in various iTaukei communities and villages to clarify issues arising from the letter.

Mr Clarke also asked Mr Katonitabua about a press statement issued by the ministry two months after he reported Mr Waqabaca’s letter to police.

Mr Katonitabua said the move by the ministry to have a press statement published was to help clarify misinformed articles that were usually published in Nai Lalakai.

Mr Clarke then read aloud from Mr Katonitabua’s statement to police. In the statement, Mr Katonitabua had said Mr Waqabaca’s letter could create instability and fear as it concentrated on the issue of Government leadership and land.

Mr Katonitabua said the four main issues that were usually highlighted by iTaukei communities included ethnicity, the abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), religious groups and vacant chiefly seats.

Mr Clarke also questioned Mr Katonitabua on the translated version of the alleged seditious article he had presented to police.

The letter, as translated, said: “Let us not forget the land in Serua, Lodoni, Namena and Dawasamu including all 14 provinces in Fiji has now been alienated.”

Mr Clarke then asked Mr Katonitabua if he was aware of what Mr Waqabaca was talking about in his letter.

Mr Katonitabua said the land mentioned by Mr Waqabaca had different ownership and the ministry had records of it.

He said the ministry was not aware of the grievances that were raised by the people in the mentioned areas because Government was working to return the land to rightful owners.

In re-examination by Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Lee Burney, Mr Katonitabua explained why he was concerned about Mr Waqabaca’s

He said he was concerned because it highlighted an issue of interest, especially the misinformation that iTaukei people had been deprived of their land.

Mr Burney then asked Mr Katonitabua if he was concerned about how the name of Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum was mentioned in the alleged
seditious article.

Mr Katonitabua said he was very conerned about it because the A-G had been appointed into Government through a democratic process.

Mr Burney asked him what he meant about how the article could cause political upheaval.

Mr Katonitabua said this was because of Fiji’s history and the “dark days” before Christianity.

“And papers using this particular intent, or this article to iTaukei, it brings back those dark days of Fiji,” he said.

Fiji Times publisher Hank Arts is charged with one count of publishing a seditious article in Nai Lalakai while Nai Lalakai editor Anare Ravula and Fiji Times editor in chief Fred Wesley are charged with one count each of having aided and abetted the publication of a seditious article.

Mr Waqabaca is charged with one count of submitting for publication an article written by him with a seditious intention, while Fiji Times Ltd is charged with one count of printing a seditious publication.

Mr Arts and Wesley are represented by Queens Counsel Marc Corlett, assisted by Nicholas Barnes of Munro Leys. Mr Waqabaca is represented by Aman Ravindra-Singh and Ravula is represented by Devanesh Sharma while Fiji Times Ltd is represented by Mr Clarke, of Howards Lawyers.

The trial continues before Justice Thushara Rajasinghe today.

The Fiji Times lawyers return from court on Monday April 30. Picture: JOVESA NAISUA