The government failed to ensure accountability for the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. In two incidents, individuals were forcibly returned without due process to countries where they may be at risk of serious human rights violations. The increasing use of sedition charges, and the arrest of a lone peaceful protester on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture highlighted the continuing restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
In June, the UN Special Rapporteur on racism published a report from his December 2016 mission to Fiji. The government had not implemented several of the report’s recommendations by the end of the year, including calls to combat hate speech while protecting the right to freedom of expression, to facilitate meaningful dialogue to address past injustices and current inequalities and to strengthen the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission to ensure it complies with the Paris Principles.
Freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly
The authorities used restrictive legislation to stifle the media and curtail the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including by imposing sedition charges. In March, three senior staff at the Fiji Times and the author of a letter to its editor were charged with sedition, which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years. In May, opposition MP Mosese Bulitavu and Fiji United Freedom Party leader Jagarth Karunaratne went on trial on sedition charges for their alleged role in posting anti-government graffiti in public places in 2011.
On 26 June, Jope Koroisavou, a youth leader from the opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party, was arrested and detained for 48 hours after he carried placards in the capital, Suva, calling for justice in torture cases.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Police and military officers charged in 2015 in connection with the torture of Iowane Benedito had not been brought to trial by the end of the year.
Deaths in custody
Vikrant Nand, aged 18, died in police custody in February. The police promptly announced an investigation into his death but by the end of the year it remained unclear what steps had been taken since the autopsy.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
On two occasions, people were forcibly returned to countries where they may be at risk of serious human rights violations. In January, Iranian refugee Loghman Sawari fled Papua New Guinea for Fiji to seek asylum. On his way to meet Fiji’s Director of Immigration, police intercepted his vehicle, arrested him and separated him from his lawyer. He said the police officers punched and attacked him with pepper spray. He was returned to Papua New Guinea without due process (see Papua New Guinea entry).
In August, 77 Chinese nationals were returned to China in co-operation with the Chinese authorities. The Fijian authorities claimed that they had committed “computer crimes” and breached the terms of their visas, charges which they were not given the opportunity to contest. They were not permitted to seek legal advice or appeal their forcible return.