Shadow of gay phobia over 'angel of light'

By NAOMI LARKIN

John Scott was the lifeline for Fiji coup hostages who dubbed him the "angel of light."

But the Red Cross leader's brutal death has prompted dark questions about his private life and highlighted the anti-gay attitude that threads its way through the islands' society.

Mr Scott, who cared for and comforted the hostages during the 56 days that coup leader George Speight held democracy and the country to ransom last year, was murdered in his Tamavua home in Suva last weekend.

The 53-year-old's partner, 39-year-old expatriate New Zealander and Fijian citizen Greg Scrivener, was also killed in what police described as a scene of incredible violence.

Both had multiple and deep cuts to their heads and arms and were virtually beheaded.

Mr Scott lost a finger in the attack and Mr Scrivener's hand was hacked off. A sugarcane knife, the tool at the heart of Fiji's economy, is believed to have been the murder weapon.

News of the deaths, particularly that of Mr Scott, sent shockwaves around the Pacific and through the global ranks of the Red Cross, a movement whose activities are guided by the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence.

His humanitarian work remains beyond question but since the murders murky suggestions have surfaced about his private life, exacerbated by religious Fijian society's intolerance of homosexuality.

Police have questioned two men in connection with the killings. One is reported to be a known drug-dealer and a frequent visitor to the Scott/Scrivener household.

Police said Mr Scott had recently sent a letter to the man requesting him not to come to the house again.

The second man, a former part-time police constable who was dropped from the force, was seen with Mr Scrivener the day before his death. Police say he was a close associate of the couple.

Police have also been keen to question three boys allegedly seen at a cinema with Mr Scott the day before he was killed.

Commissioner Isikia Savua also said Mr Scott had once been questioned in connection with pornographic photographs related to a paedophilia case. No charges were laid.

Although Mr Scott and Mr Scrivener had been together since they met in New Zealand, Fiji's discrimination against gays meant their relationship was not open.

Last Friday, when Mr Scott hosted the annual Red Cross fundraising ball, he had a woman as his official partner although Mr Scrivener also attended.

"Their sexual preference was common knowledge to people like us," a Fijian journalist told the Weekend Herald. "But the general public really had no idea that he [Mr Scott] was gay. There is awareness of homosexuality but it is also portrayed as a disgusting practice."

Mr Scott, a Fijian citizen educated at Wanganui Collegiate, became Fiji Red Cross director-general in 1994. He was highly respected, receiving a Red Cross award for his role in the hostage crisis.

Floyd Barnaby, interim head of the organisation's regional delegation in Suva, said Mr Scott was "very popular with the authorities and the people."

Australian Red Cross secretary-general Martine Letts said Mr Scott was a true humanitarian who exemplified the integrity of the organisation.

When Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his Government were taken prisoner in the parliamentary complex in Suva on May 19 Mr Scott immediately volunteered his services.

Putting aside any personal political views, he stressed his neutrality and the movement's charter, "to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being."

But the armed rebels said they wanted a Fijian. Mr Scott was third-generation "kai valagi" (Fiji European).

"At one stage they said they didn't want a white person. Then they changed their minds and said they only wanted me," he told the Dominion newspaper.

Mr Scott's daily visits to the compound brought the hostages' only comfort from the outside: packages of food, books, clean clothes and hand-written messages from home.

In line with his neutral stance, Mr Scott's answers to the persistent media questioning that followed every visit were softly spoken, polite and transparently thin on news.

"All I can say is they have got mattresses and blankets today and we're doing everything we can to make them as comfortable as possible."

But he admitted fear: "There was a lot of fear. I'm not going to pretend that I'm a great he-man."

Then one day a rebel greeted him with the term "tabu soro" (never give in).

It was a term of respect applied to his father, Sir Maurice Scott, a Fiji MP and the first European Speaker in the country's Parliament.

"It was respect from them for my continuing effort to get back in when there was a period when I wasn't wanted."

Mr Scott had declined to give evidence in Speight's forthcoming treason trial because he did not want to compromise the neutrality of the Red Cross.

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