FREEDOM OF SPEECH PUT AT RISK BY ILLEGAL REGIME

Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor | May 12, 2009

Article from:  The Australian

A JOURNALIST in Fiji has been held for two days at Suva police station for posting an online question-and-answer exchange with the Australian High Commission about Canberra’s position on the country’s military-installed Government.

Dionisia Turagabeci was released yesterday after being warned never again to infringe new regulations that require all stories be vetted by the the Ministry of Information before they are published.

Fiji’s media has been operating under strict censorship since last month, when the constitution was abrogated and the Government, in power since a 2006 military coup, put back the date of democratic elections to at least 2014.

Shelvin Chand, Turagabeci’s colleague on fijilive, the country’s most popular website, was also detained for two days for writing a report on the release from prison of soldiers and police jailed for killing three civilians in 2007. However, authorities say the security personnel remain locked up.

Turagabeci said yesterday, she had been advised not to speak to journalists about her detention, in case that caused her further trouble from the authorities. She is due to return to work today. Her story on Australia’s official view of the Fiji Government was removed after just 20 minutes on fijilive’s website. Chand’s story was also swiftly removed.

The site is owned by Fiji entrepreneur Yashwant Gaunder, who gained substantial income from owning the first company in the country to sell music downloads. Fijilive earlier came to prominence when it provided information during the coup staged in 2000 by George Speight, who remains in jail after holding the then cabinet captive in parliament house.

14 Responses to “FREEDOM OF SPEECH PUT AT RISK BY ILLEGAL REGIME”

  1. Budhau Says:

    Freedom of speech is not a absolute right – when the state has a compelling interest, it may regulate speech. Here, the regime seems to be arguing that there is a national security interest which requires the regulation of speech. The regulation is narrowly tailored to achieve that objective.
    With all the Blogs available, most of those news stories are getting out anyway.

    I think National security interest trumps the freedom of speech – specially will all those blogs trying to people to rise against the regime – and A/NZ hoping that some military folks may also consider a mutiny.

    The reaction of this regime to the local media has something to do with the Fiji Times, screwing it up for all – I think the media regulations would not have been extended another 30 days, if we had not not had the position taken by the Fiji Times.

  2. epeli Says:

    Budhau you are a macafaka would you please piss-off to hindu land asap.

  3. Keep The Faith Says:

    Unfortunately you are spewing The Shyster’s filth in here Budhau.

    Yes freedom of speech is an absolute right UNLESS the circumstances warrant it like a State of Emergency or natural disaster (read your constitution)…what we have going on here is a forced, illegal and treasonous state of emergency.

    And no the blogs are not reaching all those who need to be reached and a good number of those people are not even involved in these debates…good thing is that under any oppression people do tend to get very “clever”.

    We The People will have the last laugh. Bank on it.

  4. Budhau Says:

    So you do admit that we have a “state of emergency” – however else you may define it – it is still a state o f emergency.

    And under a state of emergency, the state may regulate speech. The point I was making is it is a legitimate state objective to restrict speech and it is compelling – the threat to national security.

    You may argue all you want, however, when the state says that national security is at stake – there is little you can do.

    As for the Blogs – compare the the situation now with that of the Internal security decree on 1988 and back then there were no blogs….and yes people do figure out how to get the message out – they also did it in 1988.

    BTW – “we the people having the last laugh” – I am also banking on that – when I will have say as to who the President would be and who will represent me in the Senate.

    The question is not about the “last laugh” – the issue is “we the people” and real democracy.

  5. Keep The Faith Says:

    @ Budhau: I don’t admit it neither do I recognize it. As I said it is Bainimarama’s self-perpetuating and ILLEGAL initiative.

    And your definition of democracy appears to be one held by you and a few others holding the country at ransom right now. The majority in these parts seem to be all on the same page.

    Agreed thats blogs are a new phenomenom but at the present time it is only actively engaging the elites — that is by no means democratic. The rest of the populace are only on the receiving end of it. Their views are not reflected here.

    If you want to change opinions you might want to consider getting off the blog and standing for elections…see how far you can change worldviews of We The People then.

    Yes by all means please exercise your constitutional rights…unfortunately Bainimarama thinks he has killed it. However the constitution as it stands does not permit that — again if you want to change that, allow a democratically elected Govt in and try and make those changes happen.

  6. Budhau Says:

    Keep the Faith – our constitution has been abrogated before and new, improved constitution have been installed before.

    My point is that since the old constitution has been abrogated, my suggestions should be incorporated in the new constitution. The way things seem to be going, a new constitution would probably be in place before we have a democratically elected government. That is why you and others should also make sure that we have a more democratic constitution – of course that constitution can also be improved by constitutional means.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not here to support coups, or making changes to constitution by “unconstitutional” means. Shit has happened – what we have to do now is figure out how to get out of it. That is why I feel that such input, as what I had suggested should be considered and you should also support democratic principles.

    Second thing you brought up – The right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations.

    I agree that it is a fundamental right – but never a absolute right. What that means is that whenever the freedom of speech is regulated, it is usually strictly scrutinized by the courts. Here, since we don’t even have court and the regime does have absolute authority to regulate – we still discuss this as if it was a constitutional law problem – as you had asked me to go read the constitution.

    BTW – looking at it from the constitutional law angle – that must be why you thought that I was “spewing The Shyster’s filth” – she may have also done a similar analysis.

    So here, we are not questioning the regime’s right to regulate speech – regardless of whether the regime is legal or not – it is still the de-facto government of Fiji and if they feel that there is a threat to national security, they will restrict speech. So what they are doing is still legitimate.

    The protest should focus on, not the states objective, which is National security, but the manner in which they are regulating speech – it is overbroad and ambiguous. They must tailor their media regulation narrowly and still achieve the same objective. There is no reason why the release of some convicted soldiers can not be reported by the media.

    That is how a court would usually look at the state action and decide whether it was constitutional or not – first, there has to be a legitimate state interest, in this case national security – most of the time the court of defer to the state – that there was a national security threat – however, the courts would strictly scrutinize the means to achieve that goal – and here it looks like that state does not really have to go this far in their regulation.

    Also, any regulation of a fundamental right makes the regime look bad – thus, the arrest of the two journalists was counter-productive. If was meant to intimidate, it did not work – we had the same story in all other papers today. What the regime did was a screw-up probably a knee jerk reaction based on some poor advice.

    We have a de-facto government in Fiji and we will most likely have a new constitution before we have a democratically elected government. It is about time people learn how to deal with this regime and also be at the table when the decision is made as to what goes in the new constitution – as someone said – you either be at the table or you will be on the table.

  7. Keep The Faith Says:

    @ Budhau: The abrogation of the constitution is subjectiv. You may accept it but many here do not.

    Simillarly many here do not accept that this regime is in power. In their own way people are resisting it. If the Bainimarama really had politcal control why clamp down on freedom of expression? why censor and skew the news? why clamp down on groups gathering?

    The bottom line is that they are afraid and they know they don’t have the political power.

    And you can bet your socks that the people are going to deal with this regime.

  8. Budhau Says:

    Keep the Faith – issue #1 – “abrogation of the constitution is subjective.” I don’t think so – whether you or I accept the abrogation does not make any difference.

    After the Speight coup, the military tried to abrogate the constitution but the courts declared that 1997 constitution was still intact and the interim government was illegal. (Qarase found a way around putting back Chaudary in the PM’s seat, but the constitution survived).

    The situation back than was different – Speight was no longer around and Qarase’s Interim government had promised that it would abide by the court’s decision.

    This time around, the guys who pulled the coup are still around – if you have a plan to get rid of them, then I am sure we can take this to court have the courts declare that the 1997 constitution is still intact, we put Qarase government back in power and go on from there.

    I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon. The way out of this is not by trying to solve a legal (constitutional) problem, we have to deal with the political problem. Courts are not going to solve the political problem.

    The way I see this impasse being resolved – There is a negotiated agreement as to when the election is going to be – I think around 2012. We put a new constitution in place in a manner similar to what Rabuka did after 1987. We then have an election under the new constitution and new electoral system, give things some time to settle down – maybe 5 years – and than tweak the constitution as needed through consensus.

    The 1997 constitution is gone – khalaas.

    Issue #2, you also wrote, “many here do not accept that this regime is in power.”

    The regime controls the military, police, the civil service, its legislative objectives are met by decree, they control the judiciary – what else is there for them to be “in power”. You could argue that they are in power illegally – but that is what I said, that this is our de-facto government – you still gotta deal with it.

    You may disagree with me on this one, but I honestly believe that that the masses recognize this and they also accept the military’s monopoly on power.

    What A/NZ are trying to do (and Frank mentioned that in the media today) is to bring about a economic collapse – make is no unbearable for the masses that they get desperate and refuse to accept this military rule – and we will have a good old revolt going – we can come up with a good name for this too – call it a putsch, revolution, civil war, war for liberation or whatever (Khali fire Karo).

    However, with the behind the scenes help from China, I don’t think our situation would get so desperate that the masses will rise – with the sanctions, cut in aid, tourist numbers down, a global economic down turn and one of the worst flood this century – it seem that the regime buggers just keep on keeping on. Economically, how much worse can things get?

    The reason the man in the street is willing to accept this change, whether legal or otherwise, is because most regular folks see this as a one lot has taken over power from another lot of “them”. That is why “the people” are not going to “deal” with this regime, as you claim.

    That is why Qarase does not have the grassroots support, those who voted for the SDL are not standing up for him. This lack of reaction, that we have seen since 2006, and we see it now – that is all this regime needs to stay in power. There are about a dozen loser SDL types who keep making their rounds to the local media offices that is about it.

    The lower levels of the civil service (mostly Fijians) – they could have shut down this regime if they had the will – but they have accepted the new bosses – the ones who have the power to promote and demote. It does not matter who the District Officer is – they will still do as he says. The guys higher ups, civil servants, police and military – this has been a great opportunity for many – better salaries/positions, upward mobility and with that comes loyalty.

    The state is just a machine – it was run by the Alliance, by Rabuka and his boys, by SDL and now Frank & Company – The Fijian people had very little to do with the running of the state – they showed up to vote once every five years, or supported the coups because of the fear of the bogey-man – the Indian. Like any other machine – you just have to get control of the steering wheel – the Fijian elite and the Ratus had control, Frank took it. The common Fijians, there is no political community there – that is why they are not reacting to this coup.

    You see Keep the Faith, this lack of reaction since December 2006 is the KEY to the victory of the coupster and they know this. They were afraid of negative reaction when they initially pulled the coup. That is why they explained to the people that this was all about anti-corruption, clean-up etc. Why was there a need to explain – to control that reaction. Once they realized that resistance was not coming – they changed the theme song to “one-man-one-vote”, because the reaction in the international community needed to be toned down. That has not worked. I think Franks mistake there was that he did not put a “civilian” PM in charge – Nailatikau or Ganilau or someone. That might have worked with A/NZ – like he had put Qarase in-charge back then but that was not a good experience for Frank.

    Why clamp down on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly? Because if he does not do that, than it is likely that with the negative reports, people would not accept the regime and they might start reacting – that is bad for business – the key to victory is the lack of reaction – and we have seen that.

    You see Keep the Faith – I say it the way I see it – you guys try and translate this into me being a coup supporter. This is all academic.

    This is not necessarily what I want – this is my take on what is happening in Fiji.

  9. Keep The Faith Says:

    I’ll let you have the last word Budhau.

    But I hardly consider this an academic exercise. When this is taken to court it will only uphold Gates decision re: Speight coup which was declared as illegal.

    I think I’ve had this discussion many a time with you before and negotiations or otherwise is neither your place nor mine.

    P.S. Don’t discount the people’s silence as aquiescence. It’s churning. And above all this is a very valuable learning curve for the folks re: governance and who really holds political power.

  10. Budhau Says:

    Thanks Keep the Faith
    Keep Hope Alive.

  11. Asgrocky Says:

    Bhudau, Keep the Faith
    Great discussion. Enjoyed that. Lots of infor, much appreciated.

  12. Grace Says:

    ABC online 14/05/09

    Fiji censors reject Rudd’s editorial

    By Pacific correspondent Campbell Cooney

    Posted 1 hour 5 minutes ago

    Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has sent an editorial to Fiji’s media outlets explaining why the country’s military-backed regime has been suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum.

    But media censorship in Fiji means Mr Rudd’s piece is not being made public.

    Mr Rudd says interim prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s actions, including the recent scrapping of the constitution, have damaged Fiji’s international standing and the reputation of its military.

    But he says that damage is made worse by the effect on Fiji’s economy, which is already highly vulnerable due to the global financial crisis.

    Mr Rudd’s piece was provided to local media outlets yesterday.

  13. Cama Says:

    The Constitution can still be alive in the court of law even if you change the constitution now and design a new one. it will come back to haunt you in the court because we have two Appeals court judgement that with held this 1997 constitution and mark my words this is a reference for all judges in the future.

  14. Cama Says:

    That is why the Church is calling on the President to bring back the constitution because even if you throw it out as I had mentioned above, it will rear its ugly face to those who abrogate it. ………… then it will be prison time.

    It will be good for the Government now to Get the Constitution back and we follow the Appeals court decision.

    Form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission where we thrash out our lies and we start afresh because if you think that this Government’s gonna wiped off corruption, no no!! This Goveernment is full of lies and corruption.

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