The ugly hand of oppression in Fiji has showed itself again with the police yesterday shutting down the 25th birthday of the Fiji’s Women’s Rights Movement’s (FWRM) retreat and planning at the Pearl Resort in Pacific Harbor.
Two staff members were taken in for questioning while another NGO that was holding a strategic planning event at the same venue was not interrupted by the Police.
Sources say the retreat was broken up at about half past 9 yesterday morning when a police officer from the Central Investigation Department asked the hotel event coordinator whether FWRM had a permit. The information was relayed to the FWRM Executive Director, Virisila Buadromo, who informed him the event was an internal FWRM planning meeting.
25 representatives of the FWRM staff, management board and partners were spending three days reflecting on their achievements over 25 years.
But despite assurances from Buadromo the gathering was part of FWRM’s annual internal planning session which didn't need a permit, the police insisted she be taken in for questioning to the Pacific Harbor station.
Sources say the officer kept reiterating FWRM had contravened provisions of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER). When Buadromo agreed to accompany him with a lawyer, he told her a lawyer’s presence would not be needed.
Buadromo held her ground and was accompanied by FWRM lawyer, Roshika Deo, where they were told to wait while “he consulted his superiors.” During that time, Buadromo called several women human rights defenders to inform them of what was happening as well as a human rights lawyer. She was advised by Deo to request that her statement be given in Suva in his presence. The request was denied by the police.
After half an hour of phone calls between the police officer and someone at the Suva CID headquarters, Buadromo and Deo, were informed that charges would not be pressed, the meeting had to be dispersed and that this should be viewed as a “warning.” While waiting at the station, a police officer told Deo “it’s because you are an activist that is why they have brought you in …..to check!”
Buadromo and Deo returned to the Pearl Resort with the police officer to confirm the FWRM planning was shut down. In the last 10 minutes (11.30am Fiji Time), the police have returned stating that a senior intelligence officer from CID HQ was on his way to ask further questions. When inquired whether this was an official investigation, he was hesitant to confirm or deny.
Editor's Note: The latest crackdown on the so-called breaches of the PER comes as dictator Frank Bainimarama and his wife and three children make their way to the Netball World Championships in Singapore. Sources say he'll travel to China as well for a medical check up.