Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s eight years in power have seen ongoing serious human rights violations fuel a climate of fear that must be brought to an end, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published ahead of the leader’s visit to New Zealand this week.
As Fiji prepares for parliamentary elections next month – the first in the eight years since Bainimarama took power in the 2006 military coup – Fiji: Play Fair, A human rights agenda documents the continued suppression of freedom of expression, violations of workers’ rights and use of torture by security forces, all of which the government must urgently address.
“A combination of draconian laws, a pattern of intimidation and harassment of those who are critical of the government, as well as reports of torture by the security forces, have created a climate of fear in Fiji,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.
Despite Prime Minister Bainimarama’s commitments to create “a level playing field for all Fijians,” human rights defenders, journalists and trade union leaders continue to face harassment and intimidation for peacefully carrying out their legitimate work.
The briefing documents the case of Kris Prasad, a peaceful activist for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. He was one of 12 people arrested in September 2013 for peacefully protesting against the new Constitution, which came into force that month.
In late April 2014, police again contacted Prasad and other activists, saying that they wanted to reopen the investigation and conduct further interviews – measures that Prasad describes as “tactics of intimidation”.
“Restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association in Fiji should be lifted and acts of intimidation and harassment against government critics and peaceful activists must stop," said Rupert Abbott.
The government continues to violate workers’ rights by banning strike action for many industries and by intimidating and harassing trade union officials.
In another case highlighted in the human rights agenda, trade union leaders Felix Anthony and Daniel Urai have been arrested and charged with multiple criminal offences over the past two years, including the more serious charges of sedition, for peacefully advocating for workers’ rights.
Compounding the climate of fear are repeated reports of Fijian security forces using torture and other ill-treatment against people in custody. Perpetrators of these and other human rights violations enjoy impunity, with broad amnesties entrenched in the new Constitution.
In a video that surfaced online in March last year, security forces can be seen assaulting a recaptured prisoner. In the disturbing film, Iowene Bendito was repeatedly hit with sticks and batons, while another man was dragged along the ground by a dog. Following the release of the video, Bainimarama reportedly said he would “stand by his men”.
"Torture and ill treatment by security forces must be stopped and those responsible for such crimes held to account," said Rupert Abbott.
“It is not enough to say the right things when abroad while allowing the repression to continue at home. Prime Minister Bainimarama and his government should act now to end the climate of fear.”
Amnesty International is calling on all political parties and candidates in Fiji’s upcoming election on 17 September 2014 to respect and protect human rights if they form the next government.
Fiji: Play Fair, A human rights agenda includes a series of recommendations to improve respect for human rights in a number of areas, in law, policy and practice.
As Fiji’s teams return from the Commonwealth Games, and as the country prepares for elections in September, Amnesty International is calling on the Fijian government to play fair and respect human rights. The organization is also calling on political parties and candidates to publicly commit to ensuring that international human rights laws and standards are protected. Fiji’s current government must commit to respecting human rights in the lead up to elections, including by lifting restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and refraining from harassment of political candidates, journalists and others.