The conspiracy to murder charge against businessman Ballu Khan has been permanently stayed by the High Court. This means in effect that Mr Khan is free of this charge that has so affected his life and business for more than a year. Mr Khan was arrested by police and soldiers after which he spent several weeks in hospital. His home and business were raided by police and various items removed. Tape recorded conversations between him and his wife became public knowledge. He was severely and very publicly humiliated. Despite all of that we now find that there is insufficient evidence to justify a trial. What took the authorities so long to admit that this investigation was so badly bungled? Mr Khan is at the very least owed an apology by the state which has turned his life inside out and upside down over a period of many months. His business no doubt suffered equally as he was at first in custody, then released on bail and yesterday – finally – told he was a free man. A hefty compensation claim against the police and the state appears inevitable. Mr Khan, understandably, just wants to get out of Fiji and never return but that will surely not be the end of the matter. This is an extremely embarrassing episode for the police, the military and the whole system of criminal justice. In fact it speaks volumes for the need to restore to the police force its independence as an investigating authority, an independence that has been seriously eroded since the 2006 coup. The interim government and its National Council for Building a Better Fiji has established transparency as a cornerstone of the truly egalitarian society they seek to establish. Here, then, is a perfect opportunity for the government to practise what it has been preaching these last 23 months. There now needs to be a thorough and public inquiry into how and why Mr Khan was arrested in the first place, why he was treated in the way that he was and why nothing was done or said when his human rights were so blatantly trampled on. The same inquiry should also examine the behaviour of the authorities towards Mr Khan’s legal counsel which in any civilised country with respect for its own law was quite unacceptable. Of course there will be no such inquiry and no such transparency. For all the talk of transparency, accountability and general good governance, this regime which grabbed power at gunpoint clearly has no intention of implementing any of its motherhood declarations when it comes to its own errors and shortcomings while insisting that others – not least the media – must be more “responsible.” Mr Khan’s ordeal at the hands of the police and the military and subsequently at the hands of the criminal justice system will not be easily forgotten. It only serves to further undermine public confidence in the disciplined services and in the whole system of justice. Nothing short of genuine transparency can be expected to restore it.
Fiji Sun Editorial 13/11/08