Fiji police probe apparent beatings of 2 prisoners

AP News
Posted: Mar 05, 2013 10:24 PM

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Fijian police are investigating what appeared to be the brutal beatings of two recaptured prisoners on a graphic video widely shared this week on social media in the autocratic Pacific island nation.

The 9-minute video depicts at least eight plain-clothed men beating two handcuffed men. One of the victims is shown lying curled on the back of a truck while the other sits in a field nearby. In the video, the plain-clothed men hit the pair with long clubs and short batons. The victims can be heard wailing while the men laugh or whistle.

The Fiji Police Force said in a Tuesday statement it was "disturbed" to see the video of "what appears to be the abuse of two men who, at this stage, we understand to be recaptured prisoners."

The statement said Fijian security agencies have worked "tirelessly" to protect ordinary citizens from violent crimes but what is depicted in the video "requires investigation."

Fijian leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 coup, and since then, the former British colony has been isolated internationally for its failure to restore democracy. It has promised elections next year, but rights groups have expressed doubts about how democratic they will be.

Amnesty International raised concerns to Bainimarama about the treatment of five recaptured prisoners in a separate case last year. The rights group claimed the men were tortured and one had to have part of his leg amputated because of an open fracture.

Police told the Fiji Sun newspaper last year they were investigating that case and that the prisoner had diabetes.

After the new video surfaced, government spokeswoman Sharon Smith-Johns said Wednesday the government had no comment on the video and that police would not be commenting further until their investigation was more complete.

The video was circulated this week in Fiji through emails, social media and on anti-government websites. It was also posted on YouTube. It remains unclear who shot or circulated the video.

At one point, one of the plain-clothed men uses a baton to sexually assault the victim on the truck. At another point, the victim on the truck is shown naked below the waist as he is beaten. Large purple welts are visible on his legs. At another point in the video, a dog held on a chain by one of the plain-clothed men drags the victim in the field a short distance. That victim's clothes are torn and appear to have blood on them.

One of the plain-clothed men appears to be recording the beatings on a cellphone.

Bainimarama had raised hopes in the international community last year when he announced plans to institute a new constitution ahead of elections. But that process has proved controversial, and a series of decrees imposed by the regime this year have set hurdles for political participation.

One decree requires organizations to have at least 5,000 members from across the country to register as political parties. Another decree bans anybody affiliated with a trade union from seeking election and threatens media outlets with hefty penalties if they describe any unregistered groups as political parties.

Patrick Low, a spokesman for Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr, said Australia opposes the decrees.

"We are not giving up on the process," Low said. "The Fijian government says it remains committed to free and fair elections, and we want to encourage that. But steps away from that are unhelpful."

Low said Carr was trying to gather all the facts on the video before commenting on that.