Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s claim in the parliament that he didn’t flee Fiji in 1987 has again thrown a spotlight on the allegations that he made and detonated bombs as part of the Indo-Fijian resistance movement against the Sitiveni Rabuka-led coups.
There are people who were part of the same movement who are shaking their heads in astonishment that the AG misled the parliament yesterday so shamelessly. In response to taunts from the NFP leader, Biman Prasad, that he had fled Fiji in 1987, Khaiyum said he was present during the coup (true) and only left after it to “pursue studies” in Australia (false). According to multiple accounts, he was, in fact, on the run because his alleged role as “master bomber” for the resistance movement had come to the attention of the authorities, they were looking for him and he only just managed to escape.
The story of the Indo-Fijian resistance movement has only partially been told because many of the principals are still around, some at a high level, and they have remained resolutely silent about their participation and respective roles. While many Indo-Fijians, in particular, would undoubtedly regard them as “freedom fighters”, others are more likely to regard the more extreme of these individuals as “terrorists”, and especially those involved in securing arms and making bombs.
One of their number – according to members of the group – was Dr Satyendra Prasad, Fiji’s current Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Another is a prominent academic at the University of the South Pacific. And then there was Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who has already been publicly unmasked by one of his fellow resistance campaigners, the Oxford-based academic and journalist Victor Lal.
Lal has described the AG as the “Master Bomber” of 1987 – the “Bomber of 10 Bakshi Street”, he’s called him, after the Suva address where Lal says Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum made the bombs that were used as part of the resistance activities. Here’s Victor Lal’s largely forgotten and tantalisingly brief account published on his Fijileaks website in September 2014.
“Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum first came to our attention in 1987, and later in 1988, notably as a member of The Democracy 18, a group of 18 (not all Indo-Fijians) who publicly defied coupster Sitiveni Rabuka’s decrees and protested in Suva’s Sukuna Party on 14 May 1988. He, along with the other protestors, was arrested and locked up at the Suva police station. The protestors were bailed the next day, Sunday, and on Monday fronted court. They were all subjected to degrading treatment when an old police truck was parked outside their cells and the engine revved so that smoke pumped into their police cells.
On 14 May 1987 Rabuka and his racist henchmen (including two present Bainimarama/Khaiyum regime Cabinet Ministers Ratu Inoke Kubuaobla and Filipe Bole) had turned the lives of Indo-Fijians upside down; to be precise, the coup happened 108 years to the day when their Indian indentured labourer ancestors had arrived in Fiji on 14 May 1879. The young Khaiyum was then a trainee television producer at the Kerry Packer Channel Nine-owned Television Fiji office on Gordon Street.
Unlike native Fijians who melted away after the 2006 coup, the Indo-Fijians and their sympathizers were a well-organized and determined group after the 1987 coups. It was agreed to take the fight to Rabuka and his regime, even if it meant bloodshed and violence on a large scale. We are well aware of the tons of weapons – The Guns of Lautoka – that was shipped to Fiji to overthrow the Rabuka government. Hardly anything is known about Khaiyum and his bombers.
During the early stages of the coup, the Indo-Fijian opponents of the coup needed a ‘coalition of the willing’, to borrow a political phrase used to describe collective participants who came together to topple dictator Saddam Hussein. Khaiyum came forward and took charge of making homemade bombs, from his garden shed at Bakshi Street in Suva.”
We know from recent court proceedings that Suva woman Veronica Malani alleges that Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum threw a bomb at her in the driveway of her home in Suva that injured her, her mother and their house girl. (See the attached police statement).
Malani’s claims led to a joint military and police investigation into Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum’s alleged role as a bomber in which they interviewed some of the principals at the time but not all, and inexplicably one of the main figures involved in the resistance campaign.
We know the report of that investigation was then sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde, to evaluate whether charges should be laid against the AG on the usual basis of the likelihood of securing a conviction and whether such a prosecution was in the public interest. We know he sent the docket back to the police asking for further investigation. What we don’t know is whether Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum was interviewed as part of that investigation and what he told the investigating police about the allegations against him.
In any event, the DPP decided that on the basis of the evidence before him, there were insufficient grounds to prosecute. That decision was challenged by Veronica Malani in an application for judicial review in the High Court that was recently dismissed by the Chief Justice, Kamal Kumar.
Incredibly, no-one in the Fijian media has directly asked the AG: “Were you making and detonating bombs as part of the Indo-Fijian resistance movement in 1987?” It appears to be a question that is off limits. But here’s what we know – and we don’t know a great deal -about what happened as the police noose tightened around Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in 1987:
With the help of two prominent members of the group, he was spirited to Nadi and was able to board an Air Pacific flight to Sydney. In Australia, he was able to eventually gain permanent residency, studied law and eventually secured a job at the prestigious law firm, Minter Ellison. And he returned to Fiji in the late 1990s after his co-members of the resistance movement were given official immunity for their activities, which, incidentally, doesn’t cover him because of his absence from Fiji.
Khaiyum’s Australian permanent residency was stripped from him after his participation at Frank Bainimarama’s side in the 2006 coup and the rest is history. Except that there are a great many gaps in the story that are still to be filled in and a great many questions that the AG has gone to considerable lengths to avoid.
Which brings us to his appearance in the parliament yesterday. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s claim that he was present during the 1987 coup – “I did not leave Fiji in 1987” screamed the headline on his brother, Riyaz’s, FBC, – is woefully short of the truth. And his claim to have left to pursue studies in Australia is a lie. He was on the run, desperate to escape the clutches of the authorities for allegedly making and detonating bombs – an offence that would have put him behind bars for a very long time.
Too many people know the story for Khaiyum to get away with his sanitised and false account. As one commented to Grubsheet: “It’s shocking that he misled the parliament and especially during Ramadan”.
Sitting next to the AG in the parliament yesterday was a man who undoubtedly knows the story – the Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama. In a strange twist of history, Victor Lal says that in 1987, Frank Bainimarama – as a young naval officer – was in charge of the joint police and military command centre at the Central Police Station in Suva at which “the master bomb maker Khaiyum was held with 18 other pro-democracy activists”. So their paths had crossed even then.
It may have been 35 years ago, but this saga will continue to stalk Bainimarama and Khaiyum merely because there are so many aspects to it that remain a mystery. Certainly if the “Bomber of 10 Bakshi Street” has any pretensions to be Bainimarama’s successor, they both have a lot of explaining to do. Because if the PM has any desire to fight the election and then hand over to the AG, it may be OK for those Fijians who regard him as a freedom fighter that he can lead the country but it’s unlikely to be OK for those who’d regard him as a terrorist.
So AG, a full explanation in the election lead-up please. And no more lasulasu-jhooth (lies).
POSTCRIPT: A private message to Grubsheet after this was published this morning from someone I know to have been a member of the 1987 Resistance:
“You are dead on.
It’s hitting them hard.
Khaiyum should have admitted and become a hero or zero for IndoFijians.
He cant keep being on the run”.