Amnesty demands probe into Fiji brutality claims

Amnesty International demanded an investigation Wednesday into claims Fijian soldiers assaulted a man involved in a dispute with the country`s newly-elected prime minister, calling the case an early test of the government`s human rights credentials.

Wellington: Amnesty International demanded an investigation Wednesday into claims Fijian soldiers assaulted a man involved in a dispute with the country`s newly-elected prime minister, calling the case an early test of the government`s human rights credentials.

The man, a 60-year-old teacher, is believed to have complained via text message to Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama about his songs being used without permission during Fiji`s recent election campaign, the rights group said.

Amnesty researcher Kate Schuetze said that over the weekend, four soldiers turned up at the man`s house just outside Suva and beat him so badly that he remains in hospital recovering from his injuries.

"These are very serious allegations," Schuetze told AFP. 

"We`ve received information from more than one source and we think that`s enough to warrant establishing a credible, independent investigation."

Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 coup then stepped down as military leader earlier this year to contest the South Pacific nation`s September 17 election, which he won in a landslide.

During eight years of military rule, Bainimarama`s regime muzzled the media, clamped down on public meetings, sacked the judiciary and was accused of human rights abuses.

Amnesty released a report in August saying he presided over a "climate of fear" in the ethnically divided country of 900,000, where tensions between indigenous Fijians and the Indian community have resulted in four coups since 1987.

Last month`s vote has been hailed a success by the likes of UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the Commonwealth last week reinstated Fiji as a member, saying a democratically elected government now ruled the islands.

Schuetze said the allegation involving the teacher came just a month after a prisoner died in custody in Fiji, adding: "It shows that there`s an ongoing pattern of these issues which has not been addressed."

She said Bainimarama`s government needed to properly investigate and prove that it has more respect for human rights than the military regime that preceded it. 

"This provides a clear opportunity for Fiji to show that human rights are an important issue and it`s making that change," the Australia-based activist said.

"Unfortunately we haven`t seen that come to fruition yet but we`re still hopeful."

She said Fiji`s rights record is scheduled to be reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on October 29.

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