Report presented on Fiji’s violations
Updated: 19:18, Thursday May 28, 2009
Fiji’s military regime has been lambasted in an Amnesty International report critical of continuing free speech violations and widespread intimidation in the troubled country.
The world human rights watchdog has catalogued a raft of contraventions in Fiji during 2008, including the torture of prisoners and expulsion of journalists.
The report does not include the dramatic political developments this year under the leadership of army head Frank Bainimarama, in power since a December 2006 coup.
The latest upheavals in April, in which the country’s constitution was abrogated, the media censored and elections delayed for five years, are a major setback for Fiji’s stammering journey towards democracy.
‘It was bad before but it has deteriorated even more now,’ said Russell Hunter, the Australian former Fiji Sun publisher who was deported last February and is named in the report.
‘If Amnesty had considered the violations even this year to date, what you’d have is a very long and depressing list.’
The report states: ‘The interim, military-supported government continued to violate freedom of expression and intimidate journalists and members of the public’.
Fiji’s official Human Rights Commission itself supported these moves and attacked the role played by other human rights organisations in the country, it says.
It details the deportation of Hunter and Fiji Times publisher Australian Evan Hannah, as well as threats made to journalist Serafina Silaitoga and the fatal torture of escaped prisoner Josefa Baleiloa at the hands of police.
Fiji is party to just seven of 18 selected international treaties supporting human rights, one less than the African dictatorship Zimbabwe and one more than both Iran and Iraq.
In the latest developments, media organisations have been ordered not to publish ‘negative’ news, and must comply with standards imposed by government officials posted to newsrooms.
Underground blog websites have become Fijians’ key source of news, but bloggers have become increasingly fearful they will be targeted by the regime.
There have been more than a dozen reports of people with pro-democracy views being held without charge or legal representation and raids of homes and offices.
Hunter, who was deported after the Sun published articles about tax evasion by a senior minister, said that his friends in Fiji now live in constant fear of repercussions for airing their views.
‘The military junta has tightened its hold.
‘People are terrified to speak out, even in small groups, for fear their views will be reported and they will be hauled in.’
Rights activists are lamenting an interim government decision last week to replace the Fiji Law Society in licensing lawyers.
‘Obviously that means any lawyer who has stood up against the coup and the military will simply be not allowed to practice,’ Hunter said.
‘What kind of solution is that?’
The regime recently extended the period of media censorship to June 10 and indicated it may continue indefinitely.

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