The Vice President and four others who took illegal oaths to serve under the Speight government in the 2000 coup, have been jailed for terms ranging from one year to six years.
Vice President Ratu Jope Seniloli, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, Ratu Viliame Volavola, Peceli Rinakama and Viliame Savu were all found guilty by the assessors on Thursday of taking illegal oaths.
They pleaded mitigation Friday morning and at 3pm Justice Nazhat Shameem announced custodial sentences amid very tight security and high police presence at the High Court and around the Government building.
Seniloli received a four-year jail term while Vakalalabure went in for six years because the Judge saw him as playing an important role in the events of 19 May 2000 that saw the overthrow of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his People’s Coalition Government.
She added that as a lawyer, he should have counselled those around him and have been prepared to fight for the rule of law instead of joining the rebels.
“This country should have been able to look to our young educated leaders, particularly those with legal qualifications, to lead with a vision for the future. Your failure to lead others along the correct path after the takeover of Parliament may have led the other defendants to believe that the Speight government had some legal status,” she admonished him.
Rinakama received a three year jail term while Savu got away with 12 months because he had already served a two year term on Nukulau earlier in the company of coup-frontman George Speight.
The sentences have been well received by a nation that wants the rule of law re-established and has along agitated for all those involved in the 2000 coup to be brought to justice, regardless of their status in society.
Earlier the assessors had found Ratu Isireli Leweniqila not guilty and he was acquitted by the court.
Justice Shameem, meanwhile, is under 24-hour police security following the ruling. Indeed, she and her family have been under police security ever since the case began in the Suva High Court three weeks ago.
Suva was under considerable tension Friday as the nation braced itself for possible adverse outcome to the sentencing. But Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes said the situation was under control and Police would maintain a high security profile as long as necessary.
The five are expected to lodge an application for appeal and bail pending the appeal on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, some 20 CRW soldiers who had been involved in the army mutiny of 2 November 2000 were also found guilty by a court martial and sentenced to jail terms ranging from two to six years yesterday (Friday).