PREJUDICE: Chris Merritt | June 19, 2009

Article from:  The Australian

THE crackdown on free speech in Fiji is becoming ridiculous.

Last Saturday, the dictatorship running that unfortunate country tried to censor Australian rugby great Nick Farr-Jones.

He was about to speak at a conference of accountants, and the only reason he escaped the censor was that his remarks — on the sporting career prospects for Fijians — were delivered off the cuff.

“I was asked to submit a paper (to the censor) but there was nothing to submit,” he said.

When Farr-Jones spoke to The Australian before his address to the conference he was so worried about reprisals against the conference organisers that he was reluctant to say what he thought about the spread of censorship. In the circumstances, that was completely understandable.

Government action had earlier forced three scheduled speakers to remain silent. They included two of Fiji’s most prominent lawyers.

“If I speak to you, they have their scouts out there and will see what I say online,” Farr-Jones said last Friday.

He said he was a great supporter of Fiji and had visited the country many times. But he would wait until after the conference before saying more in order to avoid causing a problem for the organisers.

Saturday’s opening session went ahead without the involvement of three of Fiji’s most prominent lawyers and academics: Richard Naidu, Graham Leung and Brij Lal.

All three had been due to take part in a panel discuss with attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on “The way forward for Fiji”.

However the organisers were told that if the three took part the conference could not proceed.

Leung has represented ousted prime minister Laisenia Qarase, Naidu is managing partner of Fiji’s largest law firm Munro Leys, and Lal helped write Fiji’s 1997 Constitution which was abrogated on April 10.

Leung told The Australian that he withdrew from the conference in order to ensure it went ahead.

“However the speech I had planned to give, and Professor Lal’s speech, have now been reproduced on a number of blog sites and has been read by 30,000 people already, if you believe the blog sites — compared to the 300 or so who would have been at the conference,” Leung said.

This reference to Fiji’s burgeoning blogs took on added meaning soon after when Fiji chief justice Anthony Gates went out of his way to have a slash at those awful websites while delivering an otherwise unremarkable speech.

Gates, who holds joint British and Australian citizenship, has turned out to be a bit of an embarrassment. After April 10, when the constitution was abrogated and the judiciary sacked, there was widespread concern for his welfare. But then he accepted reappointment to the bench, which means he has co-operated with the regime’s purge of the judiciary.

Here is what Gates said on Sunday: “Persons who were not as busy as they used to be sit at the keyboard and blog away. “They purport to be supporters of human rights and constitutional protections and yet they place known falsehoods on the blog site in their campaigns against their victims.

“Whilst espousing democracy and free speech they and their cohorts do not however allow any other blogger to correct such falsehood or factual misstatement by placing a reply. So much for free speech.”

What Gates failed to mention is that the blogs of Fiji are a direct consequence of the ham-fisted censorship of the mainstream media. If the censors eased up on the real media, there would be no need to turn to the blogs. But censorship is meat and drink to the current regime. Despite the withdrawal of the three lawyers from Saturday’s event, the conference was still briefly subject to a ban.

Last Friday, the website of the Fiji Institute of Accountants carried this notice: “The commissioner of police has reversed his decision and the 2009 conference can now go ahead without the first session.”

Farr-Jones has had a long involvement with Fiji, dating back as far as 1984. “It’s where I became a Wallaby. I love the place,” he said.

But the Fiji he saw last weekend is a very different place.

“It was bizarre. In my view, these sort of knee-jerk reactions will be very damaging to Fiji,” he said.

Farr-Jones believes Australia and New Zealand have been irresponsible in issuing warnings about the risks of travelling to Fiji. But he says the government of Fiji is making things worse by denying freedom of speech.

“A lack of democracy leads to a lack of transparency and freedom of speech.”

When he was speaking off the cuff on Saturday, he managed to slip in a few words on the career prospects for Fiji’s rugby players that might not have gone down too well with the authorities.

“I did mention that one of their problems in trying to develop world-class sports people is lack of sponsorship, but one of the major ones is isolation.

“Those sort of knee-jerk reactions will escalate the isolation.

“I would love to think we could offer our top sporting facilities to some of their top athletes, but while you have the current argy-bargy between the governments that is highly unlikely.”



  1. Bogunvilla. Says:

    Gates along with Nair & others highlites the current Australian administrations non commitment towards the restoration of democratic goverment within Fiji. Their continued & blatant inaction against these citizens of convience makes a mockery of Australian institutions – values & people.

    Australia claims it has much to offer the world – wants a say in the world forum via a seat on the UN security council? If rhetoric – spin – hypocrisy & gross incompetence are required qualities? It could finish up chairman.

  2. Willy Says:

    I suggest that Teleni raids Gates’ computer. What will be found there is enaugh to jail him in Australia for a long, long time.

  3. Save the Sheep Says:

    Gates is just an unfortunate individual who somewhere along the way has lost track of his sense of reason.

    What Gates doesn’t even recognise is that the only reason the blogs have become so popular is that people can actually say what the want to say, including the apologists. If we the peolple could speak openly through parliament or the press there would be no need for Blogs. As such the Blogs are a direct consequence of the IG itself.

    Funny how they just dont get it??!!

  4. Anonymous. Says:

    Atention! Atention! Atention!

    All bloggers operating Windows systems who are worried about you know who hacking? Go to Microsoft online downloads – ‘malicious software removal tool’ – it works – with bonus of being free & efficient.

  5. Jean d'Ark Says:

    Gates is a prime example of how an intelligent person can become blinded by pique, dislike, unforgiveness, revenge, and – dare I say it – ambition and self-importance!

    Frank is a classic example of how those same foibles (plus rage and hatred) can blind an unintelligent person, as well!

  6. Katalina Balawanilotu Says:

    Thank you Anonymous.

    Buy yourselves Mac computers is the solution .. no need for extra programs to fight off those viruses since Apple comes ready. Costs more but well worth it.

    Australia need to take a stand against Anthony Gates —
    for starters stop him from traveling in and out of Australia.

  7. Katalina Balawanilotu Says:

    And for the people of Fiji —
    stand up rise up and take to the streets and fight for your freedom.

  8. Puf-Military Says:

    Gates obviously can’t handle the well deserved heat in his hunt for easy money. If he really had principles he would have resigned after the Supreme Court sitting which overturned his previous lop sided ruling, which was declared null and void, after which the constitution was abrogated. His roundabout long winded ruling was summarily thrown out of court, a major embarrasment for any self respecting officer of the court let alone one who takes up the high office of CJ.
    Yet, like a bad penny here he is again to plague us with his biase rulings to continue perverting the course of justice. Evidently the man has no shame as he can’t hold down a job in whatever country he comes from and comes running back to the IG with his begging bowl. And he has the nerve to complain about “principles”? Gimme a break and pull the other one, son.

  9. Budhau Says:

    Hey Puf, lower court decisions get turned over by a higher court all the time – that is why we have appeals – and I am sure there are great legal minds who can still argue on both sides of this case.

    As for expatriate judges – we have a long history of that – that does not mean that these expat judges can not hold a job down in their own country and that is how they end up on Fiji. BTW – Gates has been working in Fiji since before the coup.

    If some of you had your way, we would not even have courts and judges after the abrogation of the constitution – others, like Gates, feel that even under these circumstances, we need a working judiciary.

  10. Anonymous. Says:

    Budhau – obviously you havent found a job yet?
    Know anything about pirates? Despotic administration? Sugar? Banking? Religous cults & accompanying Bands (music)? Tele Marketting? Taxi’s?
    Immigration consultancy? Bollywood movies? Viti?

  11. MichaellaS Says:

    tks for the effort you put in here I appreciate it!

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