Fiji’s vice president was sentenced to four years in prison today for his role in a 2000 coup that ousted the first ethnic Indian prime minister in the South Pacific islands nation.
Vice President Jope Seniloli had been convicted of administering an illegal oath of office when he swore in the rebel government of ethnic Fijian nationalist George Speight after the May 2000 coup.
Four other defendants, Parliament’s Deputy Speaker Rakuita Vakalalabure and three businessmen, were imprisoned for between one year and six years after being convicted on the same charge in Suva.
Imposing the sentences, Judge Nazhat Shameem said there were “elements of betrayal” in the men’s actions “which I cannot ignore”.
Seniloli, who had faced a maximum life sentence for his actions, will be stripped of his vice president’s post. Authorities in Fiji are to begin searching for a new vice president.
Parliamentary opposition leader Mick Beddoes praised the convictions as marking “the re-emergence of law and order in Fiji”.
The defendants claimed that Speight coerced them into joining the coup, which he said was aimed at restoring power to indigenous Fijians.
There was no immediate reaction to the verdicts from the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who is in Samoa for a summit of Pacific leaders.
Fiji security forces remained on high alert today around Suva, after warning that no protests would be tolerated in the racially-divided country.