Repression in Fiji – international donors urged to act
7 September 2009
The interim military government in Fiji has used a wide range of repressive tactics to stifle any protests and intimidate its critics, according to a new report by Amnesty International. The report is based on Amnesty International’s research in Fiji during the crackdown that began in April 2009.
The report details beatings, arbitrary arrests and detention, harassment of human rights defenders and severe limitations on the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, opinion, and association. Amnesty International has said that the deteriorating human rights situation in the country after the military crackdown demands international action, particularly from China, now one of Fiji’s biggest foreign donors.
“Security forces in Fiji have become increasingly menacing towards people who oppose the regime, including journalists and human rights defenders,” said Apolosi Bose, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher. “Fiji is now caught in a downward spiral of human rights violations and repression. Only concerted international pressure can break this cycle.”
From 10 April until 20 May 2009, the police, military and other government officials arrested approximately 40 people, including journalists. Although all have subsequently been released, the authorities are using short-term arrests and intimidation as a tactic to suppress freedom of expression.
Amnesty International is calling on the military-led regime to repeal the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) imposed on 10 April, when then president Ratu Josefa Iloilo abrogated Fiji’s constitution and reappointed Commodore Frank Bainimarama as prime minister.
Under the PER, Fiji’s military and security forces retain absolute control over the country’s population. Soldiers and police enjoy complete immunity from prosecution for their actions, including serious violations of human rights.
Police arrested 60-year-old politician Iliesa Duvuloco and five other men under the PER and detained them on 17 April for four days for distributing pamphlets highly critical of the leaders of the interim government. Military officers beat the six men and forced them to undertake military-type drills.
The Amnesty International report documents a pattern of government interference in the judiciary, severe censorship of the media and the harassment and arrests of government critics.
“The ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists, lawyers, clergy, community leaders and critics by the authorities under the broad and sweeping provisions of the PER are tactics used to suppress any form of dissent,” said Apolosi Bose.
Amnesty International has called on Fiji’s international donors and investors to press the government to return to the rule of law. China has massively increased its financial assistance to Fiji since the 2006 coup. A spokesperson for Amnesty International said that China should use its influence to resolve the constitutional crisis.
“China has long claimed that it doesn’t interfere in other country’s affairs, but, in Fiji, China has clearly favoured one side of a long political dispute – and, in the process, ignored the country’s human rights situation,” said Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.
Apolosi Bose, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher and author of the report, was in Fiji at the time the constitution was abrogated on 10 April. He conducted wide-ranging research and interviewed more than 80 people including representatives of various organizations and members of the public.
The Republic of Fiji Military Forces, led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, executed a military coup d’etat on 5 December 2006, following a protracted public stand-off between the Laisenia Qarase-led multi party government and the military.
Fiji: Paradise lost: A tale of ongoing human rights violations: April - July 2009
Date Published: 7 September 2009
This report illustrates Amnesty International’s concerns about widespread human rights violations which followed then President Ratu Josefa Iloilo’s abrogation of the Fiji Constitution on 10 April 2009. These include violations of the rights to freedom of assembly, opinion, expression and movement, the right to a fair trial, and freedom from arbitrary detention. Amnesty International calls on the government of Fiji to halt and impartially investigate all human rights violations by the security forces and government officials and to repeal the Public Emergency Regulations.