Bainimarama Warns SDL Party

By Sarah E. Treptow
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Fiji’s Interim Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, has warned ousted Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, that his SDL party might not be included in the proposed President’s Political Forum if the party continues to criticize the interim government.

Spokesman for the SDL, Ted Young, says it is nothing that has not been said before but his party is surprised by the response, “The threats of excluding SDL from the forum would be a very counter-productive move, in fact the forum will not achieve its purpose if the biggest political party is absent from the Forum and it will be an unwise move on the part of the interim regime and Bainimarama to exclude SDL.”

Mr. Young believes the threat is a reaction of comments made by Mr. Qarase who is in Australia. Mr. Qarase has been unable to leave Fiji since he was charged with abuse of office after his government was overthrown in December of 2006. However, the High Court in Fiji altered his bail restrictions this week, allowing him to travel abroad as long as he is in Fiji in early March for his case’s hearing. He is in Australia lobbying for support of the SDL party and visiting family.

Meanwhile, the Fiji political situation will be discussed at a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in London next week. CMAG will meet in London next week to discuss Fiji and whether further measures need to be taken in light of the interim Government’s refusal to adhere to the May 1 elections deadline. Fiji was suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth immediately following the 2006 coup.

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times – CMAG to discuss Fiji at London meet – 27 February 2009

Radio New Zealand International – Fiji interim regime threat undermines planned political forum – 24 February 2009

Fiji Daily Post – Qarase seeks help in Australia – 17 February 2009

World News Australia – Qarase free to visit Australia: reports – 12 February 2009

Filipino Radio Journalist Killed

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Manila, PHILIPPINES
– Local radio journalist Ernie Rollins was killed at gunpoint Monday in Ozamiz City, in Misamis Occidental province of southern Mindanao.

International media groups urge that the murder be promptly investigated. “We firmly condemn the murder of Rollins, the latest victim of a culture of violence and impunity that has ravaged the media in the Philippines for too long,” said Reporters Without Borders. “The motive has not yet been established by the modus operandi indicates it was a contract killing ordered by Rollin’s enemies and carried out by professional hitmen.”

At 5:30 a.m., Rollins was on the way into work to host his program. He parked his car at a gas station in Barangay Talic when two men wearing ski masks approached by motorcycle. Rollins was shot three times in the body and a fatal shot to the head.

Ligaya, his partner, who witnessed the murder states, “I had not expected that Ernie would be targeted.” She then added that she believed that his outspoken commentaries against local officials might have prompted the attack.

Police superintendent Leonilo Cabug was placed in charge of the investigation.

Cabug and Misamis Occidental Governor Loreto Leo Ocampos stated that the murder was a “big blow and grave offense to press freedom.” They continued, “The dynamics of a democratic society hinge on the free flow of information, exchange of ideas, respect for one’s opinion and tolerance for the thoughts of others.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) believes that the date of the killing is of great significance. “There can be no greater irony than the timing of Rollin’s murder. He was killed on the 23rd anniversary of the Edsa People Power I uprising that supposedly restored the people’s basic freedoms, including (that) of expression,” said the NUJP.

Rollin was the first journalist killed this year in the Philippines. However, he was the 99th murder since the 1986, when the Philippines returned to democracy.

For more information, please see:

GMANews – Press Groups Condemn Killing of Filipino Radioman – 24 February 2009

Inquirer – Special PNP Unit to Probe into Rollin’s Slay – 25 February 2009

Reporters Without Borders – Popular Radio Journalist Gunned Down on Mindanao Island – 23 February 2009

Bangladesh Discovers Mass Grave at Border Guard Compound

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh – The Bangladesh military discovered a mass grave in Dhaka holding 66 border guard officers killed by mutinous border guards.  Col Rezaul Karim, chief deputy of the elite Rapid Action Battalion force, told AFP “The bodies were buried underground in a makeshift grave near the hospital in the BDR headquarters compound.”

Officials say that at least 50 more people have been killed during the 2-day violent revolt.

Major General Shakil Ahmed, a commander of the Bangladesh Rifles border guards, was one of the dead bodies found inside the border guard compound. Many more guard officers remain missing. Hundreds of mutinous border guards fled after surrendering to the government. The mutinous guards agreed to lay down their weapons after the prime minister vowed to look into their grievances, which include demands for better pay.

Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina sent in military tanks throughout Dhaka to help stabilize the crisis. Bangladeshi authorities arrested 300 border guards believed to take part in the mutiny.

The rebellion happened this past Wednesday after failed negotiations with officials for better benefits for border guards. Border guards are responsible for securing the country’s border and providing backup the country’s army and police. There has been a long standing tension between the government and the border guards who complain they are treated as second class citizens to the Bangladeshi military.

After visiting the Bangladesh Rifles border guard’s compound, a government minister announced that the men responsible for the deaths of border guard officers would not receive the amnesty Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina previously offered.  “No one has the right to kill anyone,” the prime minister said.

The Bangladeshi government declared three days of official mourning, beginning Friday and ending on Sunday at midnight.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Bangladesh Troops Find Mass Grave– 27 February 2009

Economic Times – Mass grave discovered at BDR headquarters, 30 bodies recovered– 27 February 2009

VOA – Mass Grave Discovered in Bangladesh Border Guard Compound27 February 2009

Bangladesh Border Guards End Their Mutiny

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Government officials say that the Bangladesh border guards that rebelled against the government over conditions and pay have surrendered. The mutiny began on February 25th at the Dhaka headquarters of a paramilitary unit called the Bangladesh Rifles.  An army helicopter patrolling above the barracks was shot at and mortar rounds were also fired.

By the next day, the mutiny spread to 12 different towns and cities where border guards seized control of their barracks. Police chief of the Moulivibazar district told the AFP news agency that the border guards were “firing indiscriminately.” Reports said some border guards took their officers hostage, and in others they forced them to leave. Schools in Dhaka and the surrounding areas were closed for the day and mobile phone service was suspended across the country in a bid to stop the rebellion spreading.

A government spokesperson said the situation is now under control despite sounds of gunfire in the capital. The situation in other parts of the country, where paramilitary forces remain at large is still unclear.

The mutinous border guards were demanding better wages and new bosses. They surrendered after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned the guards would face “tough action” if they didn’t surrender. “Lay down your guns immediately and go back to barracks … Do not force me to take tough actions or push my patience,” she said. On Thursday, tanks rolled into the capital to backup. About 50 people have died in the violence.

Hasina offered to pardon the guards if they surrender and return to the post. A representative of the guards told the media they were surrendering because the Prime Minister agreed to look into their grievances.

There are 70,000 border guards in 42 camps across the country. The border guards are responsible for securing boarders and provide backup for the army and police.

Indian border officials told the media they will close their borders near Bangladesh and remain vigilant.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Bangladesh Guard Mutiny is ‘Over’– 26 February 2009

FT – Amnesty deal ends border guard mutiny in Bangladesh – 26 February 2009

VOA – Bangladesh Say Mutinous Guards Surrender– 26 February 2009

State of Emergency Regulations Will Continue in Tonga

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga – The Tonga Government says state of emergency regulations will be in place until people in the capital city center feel safe again.

Nearly three years ago, the pro-democracy movement in Tonga turned violent, causing the death of eight and destroying Tonga’s capital city, Nuku’alofa. The riots erupted after the Legislative Assembly of Tonga adjourned for the year without employing promised reforms.

Following the violence in 2006, the government issued a 30 day state of emergency, and has since renewed those regulations on a monthly basis.

The state of emergency regulations were expanded in September, giving Tongan police the power to stop individuals, search them without a warrant, and even enter into and seize evidence from any vehicle, ship, or aircraft.

Citizens complain that the regulations are too restrictive, while the Government contends they are necessary to ensuring security.

While Police Minister, Siaosi Aho, recognizes that the regulations have tainted the people’s image of the police and government, he also says there is no foreseeable end to the “special laws.”

“And this is one of the things that has convinced me that I should continue [with the emergency regulations] is the fact that the people had completely lost faith and trust in the police. We are running a programme now, strategically, to bring back this trust,” Aho said.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Emergency powers in Tonga’s capital won’t go until people assure Government they feel safe – 25 February 2009

ABC Radio New Zealand – Tonga reimposes emergency regulations – 10 September 2008

AFP News Service – Tonga extends area under emergency powers – 10 September 2008