FIJI: Interim government restricts freedom of expression

Fijians and local media lose even more rights after the government reactivates emergency protocols

By Junzhi Li
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Commodore Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama, interim Fiji prime minister and leader of the Dec. 2006 military coup, reinstated the Public Emergency Decree on Sept. 7, 2007, restricting freedom of expression, barring assembly and denying citizens recourse in courts.

Bainimarama explained that the decree was intended solely to prevent ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who returned to Suva on Sept. 2, 2007 after eight months in exile, from destabilizing progress. But he also pointed out that the media irresponsibly published reports containing "allegations of intimidation by the army" that were asserted by Qarase and his spokesperson Peceli Kinivuwai. Bainimarama claimed they told lies and distorted facts about the regime.

According to an International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) report, Fijians already faced threats from the interim government, such as arbitrary detentions and warrantless searches, before the decree was reenacted. The government also intimidated the media and curbed press rights. The emergency decree broadened the military's powers even further while decreasing its accountability.

"By reimposing these emergency laws, the government is going backwards in their commitments of developing a Fijian democracy," said Jacqueline Park, IFJ Asia-Pacific Director.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) also questioned the interim government's pledge to restore democracy and constitutional rule (PDF) to the country. CHRI advocated a stop to the government's autocratic impositions on freedom of speech and a return of all democratic rights to citizens.

"CHRI has also called on [the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group] to ensure the interim government immediately and publicly makes a commitment to respect fundamental human rights; to allow an independent investigation into allegations of arbitrary detentions, beatings, and harassment by the military; and to encourage all authorities to uphold and protect the independence of the judiciary and the media."