Repressive laws and defamation suits were used to silence government critics. A new electoral law discriminated against married women. Members of the security forces were held accountable for past incidents of ill-treatment, but police use of unnecessary or excessive force against suspects continued to be reported.
Fiji’s elections, held on 14 December, resulted in the first change of government since the 2006 coup, with former Prime Minister Rabuka gaining support of the majority of seats in parliament. In one of his first acts as head of government, he officially reversed the politically motivated travel bans against the Vice Chancellor and President of the University of the South Pacific (Pal Ahluwalia) and a Fijian academic (Padma Lal).
Heads of governments at the Fiji-hosted Pacific Islands Leaders Forum Meeting in July agreed to seek an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on the obligations of states under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse impacts of climate change.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression remained restricted under the Public Order Act (as amended in 2012) and the Media Industry Development Act (2010), while defamation suits and other politically motivated proceedings were used against political opponents and other government critics.
In November, lawyer Richard Naidu was convicted of contempt of court for highlighting on social media a spelling mistake in a court judgment. He planned to appeal against the conviction, which Amnesty International and other legal and non-governmental organizations have called on the authorities to drop.1
In August, lawyer and politician Aman Ravindra Singh was sentenced in his absence to 10 months in prison for contempt of court in relation to non-payment of a fine in a defamation case filed against him in 2018 by the then-Prime Minister and Attorney General for posting messages on Facebook that were critical of them.
Concerns were raised about restrictions on media coverage of a visit to Fiji in February by China’s foreign minister.
Gender-based violence and discrimination
A study published in May by the University of the South Pacific found 80% of women journalists in Fiji experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
The High Court did not rule on a legal challenge to a new electoral law which discriminated against women prior to the closure of voter registration for the December parliamentary elections. There were concerns that the law, which required women who wished to vote under their married name to apply for their name to be changed on their birth certificate, created obstacles to women’s participation in the political process.
Torture and other ill-treatment
In May, a police officer was suspended from duty after video footage emerged of him violently assaulting a bus driver during an arrest in the town of Labasa.
In August, two military and three police officers were sentenced to four years’ imprisonment each for sexually assaulting an escaped prisoner, Iowane Benedito, in 2012. In the case of two of the officers, who were already serving prison sentences for the rape in 2014 of Vilikesa Soko (who died as a result of his injuries) and another man, Senijeli Boila, the new sentence was given as concurrent, meaning that their expected time in prison remained unchanged.
In April, the Suva High Court fined a property development company linked in media reports to China FJD 1 million (approximately USD 433,000) for destroying mangroves and a coral reef during a tourism development project on Malolo Island.