Fiji authorities are using a variety of “repressive tactics” to smother free speech, including short-term arrests and intimidation of journalists, says Amnesty International.
The human rights organisation released a scathing new report early today detailing serious human rights violations under the military regime headed by Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.
This includes the arrest and detention of at least 20 journalists under the ongoing Public Emergency Regulations, the surveillance, harassment and detention of critics, stringent censorship of media, and the interference with the rule of law.
Titled Fiji: Paradise Lost, the 48-page document also criticises the speedy release of soldiers convicted of two murders in 2007, and details other reported crimes since the 2006 coup led by Bainimarama, including the beatings, torture and sexual molestation of detainees.
“Fiji is now caught in a downward spiral of human rights violations and repression,” said Amnesty’s Pacific researcher, Apolosi Bose.
“Security forces in Fiji have become increasingly menacing towards people who oppose the regime, including journalists and human rights defenders.”
Bose was in Fiji during April when then president Ratu Josefa Iloilo fired the judiciary, abolished the constitution, reinstated Bainimarama as prime minister and imposed strict Public Emergency Regulations (PER), still ongoing.
The report is based on more than 80 interviews Bose carried out in Fiji with representatives from local NGOs, government departments, faith-based organisations as well as members of the public.
Speaking to AI on the condition that they remain anonymous, Fijian journalists and editors described life under the PER in the report.
“This is the worst time to be a journalist. They’re employing Gestapo-like tactics to intimidate us. They threatened us and told us that if we are not careful, they can beat us up badly,” one reporter told AI.
Another account describes Fijilive journalists Dionisia Tabureguci and Shelvin Chand, who were arrested barely 30mins after a report they wrote about several soldiers convicted of manslaughter was published on news site fijilive.com.
They spent two nights in custody and then released with a warning.
Besides the arbitrary arrests and interrogation of journalists, government officials and plainclothes police have been placed in all newsrooms to ensure nothing negative about the regime gets published or broadcast.
“They come in around 4pm and they start to look at all the footage and reports that we have collated and edited for the 6pm news. They can order us to cut out anything which may be interpreted as negative… there is absolutely no independence, no free press,” says a local TV journalist in the report.
Stories from other countries are also censored if they concern civil disturbances or unrest, so that the public do not “get ideas” about uprisings.
One youth activist who was detained and questioned, Peter Waqavonovono, said he was told not to speak to overseas media as the military were monitoring all overseas media interviews with Fijians.
Complete immunity and control
The AI report points out that under the PER, soldiers and police do not have to answer to their actions or any human rights violations they commit.
The role of media as an independent watchdog is crippled by section 16 of the PER, which gives vast powers of censorship to government’s Permanent Secretary of Information.
He or she may ban a broadcast or publication if he or she believes it “may give rise to disorder… or promote disaffection or public alarm…”
Any person or entity that “fails in anyway whatsoever” to comply with the regulations may be ordered to “cease all operations”.
Amnesty International has called for the Fiji government to reinstate the constitution, restore the judiciary, repeal the PER, and halt all human rights violations against the Fijian people.
It has also called for combined pressure from the international and regional community to ensure Fiji implements these changes - Josephine Latu Pacific Scoop/Pacific Media Watch
Read Amnesty report - http://www.mediafire.com/?ngjewoyke2g