Title: Homophobia in paradise? Credit: Chris Banks Features Saturday 27th August 2005 - 12:00pm1125100800 Article: 879 Rights
The man who hacked to death gay New Zealanders John Scott and Greg Scrivener in Fiji in 2001 was revealed earlier this month to have been already freed from a Fijian psychiatric institution - after serving just two years of what was supposed to have been a life incarceration. Scott and Scrivener were murdered in their Suva home a year after Scott, head of the Fiji Red Cross, emerged as a humanitarian hero of the 2000 ‘Speight' coup which saw members of parliament detained at gunpoint in appalling conditions for several weeks. Apete Kaisau was found guilty of the double murder and sentenced to be detained indefinitely because of insanity. During the murder investigation the Fijian commissioner of police repeatedly released titillating and salacious comments to the media regarding the murdered pair's sexuality and lifestyle. The Fijian rumour mill and media - and to some extent the New Zealand media too - had a field day with the trumped up ‘revelations' of homosexual depravity and even suggestions of drug abuse and paedophilia. It made for screaming headlines and insidious TV documentary coverage but none of the revelations was found to have any basis in fact. More recently a holidaying Australian retiree and a young Indian man were jailed for having consensual sex in Fiji. John Scott's brother, Owen, recently released a book about the experience of the Scott/Scrvener murders. In Deep Beyond the Reef (Penguin) he recounts the Scott family background, the circumstances surrounding the murders and the subsequent trial. He spoke about the case and the place of homosexuality in Fijian society with's Chris Banks. To what extent did homophobic attitudes hinder the murder investigation? Scott: I'm not a big conspiracy theorist, but some speculated that the Commissioner of Police was homophobic but I don't think that was something that went all the way through the police force, it was allied to one man. For example, the deputy was a very good man and extremely helpful in the investigation. I think it was marginal in many ways, the homophobia. It was just a personality thing to be honest. Why was there an initial confession by another man then a retraction of that confession? Scott: The police were under a huge amount of pressure from overseas, Foreign Affairs in New Zealand etc., because of John's profile, to find the murderer. And some of it was naivety. The Fijian police is quite a macho outfit, so this guy was picked up and worked over. He was strongly interrogated for three days. He ended up by saying they he did the murders. Did the Fijian and New Zealand media handle the affair justly? Scott: The media in Fiji has a tendency to be wild in what it prints, in print journalism anyway. Over there it applies to everything, not just homosexuality. It's colourful, that would be the best description of it. They fire from the hip. I wouldn't say the media was anti-gay in any way, not at all. The churches are. They're clearly conservative and strident, and politicians tend to have to follow suit to keep the voters happy to some degree. Like recently, with the Australian chap, the PM came out with some fairly conservative attitudes. I have a sneaking feeling that this is him having to say something publicly to be careful. I think he's a pretty decent man really, he understands what's going on, he probably was forced to say certain things publicly. In the book you talk about the Fijian tendency for rumours and gossip to gain as much currency and credibility as factual reports. Scott: Gossip has a very strong and interesting role in Fijian society. It's a governor on people's behaviour, because through gossip, if someone does something wrong, people talk. I've heard people give quite interesting sociological discourses on this. It's an integral part of a small community. Given an anti-gay attitude pervading because of the strength of the churches, did the gay aspect of the murder case add an extra salaciousness? Or would it have been the same if it was a heterosexual murder? Scott: I think it added a salacious element for outsiders. I think in Fiji when they read something in the newspaper... the papers do tend to print things wildly and with relative impunity because people just don't sue. It's just sort of accepted as a way of life, really. To some degree people don't care. They read it, they yawn, and throw the paper away. People on the outside get all up in arms about it. You've taken issue with the way TVNZ reporter Mike Valintine represented your brother and his partner as insidious people. Do you think, by dashing over from New Zealand and scooping up colourful material for his documentary, he got sucked in by this gossip mentality – classic parachute journalism? Scott: To some degree, I think that's true. I don't want to say anything personally against Mike Valintine, he was doing his job. But it was a turkey shoot. He probably didn't understand that people there do actually exaggerate or even out and out lie, which is what I found with a couple of the witnesses he had. For example, the police turned up a whole lot of people after the murders. Because they were frightened they were going to be fingered in some way, they felt they had to say things that were really anti-John, anti-Greg, and anti-homosexuality to cover their bums. There were a lot of rumours flying around. Valintine picked up on that, and he reported on it. But I think it was fairly soft journalism, he didn't really question, probe, or tell the other side. He just laid it out. You don't think it was purely homophobic gossip, even the allegations of paedophilia? Scott: Well, they use the term ‘paedophile' very loosely. Anyone around the age of twenty, and they call it paedophilia. But the gossip and rumour is part of storytelling. And yes, they were a homosexual couple. And yes, they did have an open relationship. It was a free for all to be honest. In a place like Fiji, yes, it is a different story when its a gay couple rather than a heterosexual one. Because on a heterosexual level Fiji is a very active country sexually. Nobody seems to question that. Not even the churches? Scott: Not really. You just don't see it. If you look at the number of children born out of wedlock, it's amazing. The whole way of looking at relationships is quite fluid, and is very much an island thing. But children are cared for because you have extended family networks. Much is made of Fiji's openness and friendliness. How does this extend to gays and lesbians? Do you think John and Greg were shielded somewhat because of John's position? Scott: People are fairly forgiving as long as you don't go too far. To some degree it's possible that John's position shielded him more. He was very well respected. People valued what he was doing in society. They didn't question him too much. I've known Fijian high chiefs in the past who have cohabited with a male partner, very high chiefs, very well liked high chiefs. How is that portrayed? Scott: It was tacitly acknowledged. Nobody said anything. There's a part in the book where you talk about John turning up with a female partner to an official event, having to adopt a heterosexual guise. Scott: I don't think he had to take one, I think he chose to take one. John was quite conservative and old-fashioned in his own way and he probably thought by doing that he was being sensitive to certain people's sensibilities. It was probably a bit of a complex way of thinking of John's. Greg would be at the function, but wouldn't be at the official party on the top table. The murderer apparently believed he was acting under orders from God. What role do the churches play in Fijian society, how much of an influence do they have? Scott: The churches in Fiji, various denominations, tends to be quite prescriptive. It's quite an old style type of worship in many ways... fire and brimstone. Preachers will tend to be up there waving the big stick at the pulpit. So there's a certain amount of fear involved in the sense that people feel pressure to conform. With the churches taking an anti-gay position, how does that pervade into society? Scott: I think one thing is said in public, and another is done in private. And this applies in other countries in the world where there is this conservatism. You've got a law that says homosexual practice is outlawed, which is in conflict with what the Constitution says. I think people can basically go about their daily lives. Obviously they have to be a bit careful of what they're seen to be doing, and certainly within the church, but my personal feeling is there's quite a lot of hypocrisy that goes on here. People have to toe the line. How visible is gay culture and how are gays generally portrayed in the Fijian media? Scott: To some degree it's quite visible, in the sense that you see quite a lot of effeminate people. It's quite a relaxed culture, people laugh a lot, they interact a lot, it's not sort of standoffish in a British way or a Western way. They're much more engaging, warm, touchy-feely people. Just walking down the street, seeing the way that some people interact, you would think they're obviously gay and there doesn't seem a problem. It's not like they're being stoned on the street. It's quite odd. You can try and commentate on it from afar, it's difficult, you have to go to Fiji and get a feel of the place. What are your feelings on the recent gay sex arrests of an Australian tourist and a young local man? Why do you think John and Greg were not arrested? Scott: The law was never really used before. It very seldom that it was, ever. Society, I thought, was actually very forgiving... quietly, on an ad hoc basis. It was always there, but a certain blind eye was turned. I think this has taken everybody by surprise, even people in Fiji. To show how ludicrous this was, the judge [in the Australian tourist case] said the case was bordering on paedophilia and the Indian 'boy' was 23. There's something a bit odd there and strident, and I think there'd be quite a few people in Fiji who've been rather embarrassed by this to be honest. Was this as much about the age gap as it was about homosexuality? Is there a frowning upon intergenerational sex? Scott: Well, it doesn't apply to heterosexuals, not within Fijian society. Maybe a white man and a pretty young girl would cause brows to be furrowed, but within the society you certainly see it. Some quite high profile people in Fiji have had younger lovers. What would you say to gay or lesbian tourists thinking of visiting Fiji or going to live there? Scott: I would say after what happened, I would say be very careful and stick to yourselves. Don't go out looking for gratuitous sex. It hasn't really been much of a problem in the past, this is an unusual one. There is speculation that there were photographs taken and they were going to be used as website pornography. What about going there to live? Scott: Its an interesting thing. When you hear something like this, you think “God it must be the most wild horrible, oppressed place.” But when you go there, you don't get that impression. I would say its a wonderful place to live, and the people are a wonderful, forgiving and tolerant. Because they care. You just need to be careful, don't put people offside... So was what happened to your brother and his partner a freak occurrence? Scott: To some degree, yes. The guy was a paranoid schizophrenic. It twisted his head. It wasn't picked up on till later. It had to be that way because he hadn't seen them for several years. It was very premeditated. When you look at that, it's quite chilling. Chris Banks - 27th August 2005    
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