Criticism of the illegal government's proposed media decree is growing, with Amnesty International and the New Zealand Labour Party the latest to denounce the plan as draconian.
"The Fijian government is giving itself a license to imprison or bankrupt its critics," says Amnesty International's Pacific Researcher, Apolosi Bose. "The decree will further restrain the media from reporting government and military abuses, for fear of reprisals through a kangaroo court."
"Fijian journalists have already been intimidated, threatened and assaulted by the military since media censorship was authorised in April 2009. Now they could face up to five years in jail or fines big enough shut down a media outlet, through a complaints system controlled by government and not bound by formal rules of evidence."
Amnesty International believes the decree's vaguely worded provisions will be interpreted with a view to punishing peaceful critics of the government.
"Going by past experience, the decree's generic references to national interest and public order simply mean that the media will not be allowed to criticise Fiji's leaders, members of the security forces, or their supporters and associates," says Bose.
The New Zealand Labour Party has also spoken out against the tough new media policies, with its Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Chris Carter, calling on the junta to abandon the plan.
In a statement Carter says: “The New Zealand Labour Party wants to see Fijian democracy restored as soon as possible. A free press is fundamental to any healthy functioning democracy. This draft proposal will see the end of any real press freedom in our Pacific neighbour.
"The Media Industry Development Decree will take editorial decisions away from journalists and place them in the hands of the military regime. It will also see foreign-owned media confiscated; a move clearly aimed at muzzling the Fiji Times, which has been critical of the present regime.
"The decree has been condemned around the world as a backwards step that will hurt the Fijian people and further rob them of their human rights. This is a view shared by Labour.
"Since assuming power in a coup in 2006, Fiji’s military rulers have continually demonstrated contempt for democracy by ratcheting up their control over the Fijian people. We’ve seen democratic elections ruled out until at least 2014, we’ve seen respected leaders of the Methodist Church threatened and arrested, and now we’re seeing unprecedented control forced upon local news media.
"This attack on press freedom will only hurt ordinary Fijians and further isolate the Bainimarama regime from the Pacific and the rest of the world."-Sources Pacific Media Watch and Pacific Scoop