The suspension of the Constitution, dismissal of the judiciary and imposition of emergency regulations further undermined the protection of human rights and the rule of law. The military-led government continued to violate the right to freedom of expression and intimidate journalists and members of the public. The Fiji Human Rights Commission lacked independence and was made ineffective through a government decree. Violence against women was prevalent, with perpetrators enjoying impunity as a matter of policy.
On 10 April, President Ratu Iloilo abrogated the Constitution, sacked the judiciary and declared a state of emergency using the Public Emergency Regulations (PER). These moves came a day after the Court of Appeal ruled that the military coup d’état of December 2006, and the subsequent actions of coup leader Commodore Bainimarama and President Ratu Iloilo, were illegal. Since April, media freedom was severely curtailed; the executive interfered with the independence of the judiciary and lawyers; and scores of human rights defenders, critics of the government and journalists were arrested and briefly detained, threatened or otherwise intimidated.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
The Revocation of Judicial Appointments Decree, introduced in April, dissolved all judicial appointments made under the Fiji Constitution. High Court judges were appointed to the judiciary six weeks later. Some judges who were dismissed in April accepted their re-appointments while others did not.
Two decrees in April and May barred the courts and the Human Rights Commission respectively from addressing issues concerning the abrogation of the Constitution and other acts of the government. The May decree also limited the Commission’s powers to human rights education. In May, the Legal Practitioners’ Decree removed the power to issue practising certificates to lawyers from the Fiji Law Society (FLS) and granted it to the government-appointed High Court Registrar. The Decree also excised the FLS from the Judicial Services Commission which is empowered to appoint high court judges.
- In May, the High Court Registrar headed a raid on the office of the FLS, and removed files from the premises without a warrant.
- Chief Magistrate Ajmal Khan and Magistrate Maika Nakora, both appointed in May, were sacked in July and August respectively without any official explanation.
Freedom of expression
The PER gave the Permanent Secretary for Information powers to revoke the licence of any media outlet that prints, publishes or broadcasts anything that portrays the government in a negative light. This led to extensive media censorship. Since April, the government used the PER to intimidate critics and human rights defenders, and arrest or detain without charge at least 20 journalists.
- In April, several journalists were detained by the police under the PER, including one who was questioned for providing TV footage to an Australian journalist. Journalists were warned to practise “journalism of hope”, meaning they should refrain from any negative reporting about the government, or face tough penalties from the authorities.
- In May, two journalists were detained and questioned for publishing a report about the release of several soldiers and a police officer, all of whom had been convicted of manslaughter for the death of a young man in June 2007. The government later admitted that the story was true.
- In November, the military detained Fiji-born Australian academic Brij Lal over an interview he gave with the overseas media. The military threatened to kill him if he did not leave the country immediately. He left the next day.
Freedom of religion
In July, the government banned the Methodist Church from holding its annual church conference. Senior members of the church and a high chief were briefly detained and questioned by police, then questioned further by army officers. They were charged with offences under the PER for making arrangements for the conference to go ahead. Other churches and religious organizations were allowed to hold their annual conferences.
Police commissioner Esala Teleni introduced a “Christian crusade”, a Christian outreach programme for police officers designed to curb crime. It involved police officers imparting the ethos of Christianity to members of the public through church services in town centres. This “crusade” was mandatory for all police officers regardless of their religion. Police officers who did not attend because they were of a different religious affiliation were sacked.
Violence against women and girls
Violence against women remained high with police failing to address the issue effectively. Police refrained from arresting or filing charges against suspects. Instead they forced survivors to reconcile with their violent partners as part of the police’s “Christian crusade”. From June to October, there were many reported cases of young girls and women being raped.
- In July, a woman was raped and thrown into the sea. That same month, a man was charged with raping his daughters and daughter-in-law on several occasions.
Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre statistics showed a steady rise in the number of domestic violence cases dealt with during the year.
Amnesty International visit/report
- An Amnesty International delegate visited in April.
- Fiji: Paradise Lost, a tale of ongoing human rights violations, April – July 2009