Amnesty International presses China over Fiji
Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor |
September 08, 2009
Article from: The Australian
FIJI was caught in “a downward spiral of human rights violations and repression”, Amnesty International’s Pacific researcher, Apolosi Bose, warned yesterday in launching a damning report on life under the military-installed government there.
Amnesty’s report urges international donors and investors to press the Suva military government – which has been in power for almost three years, and says it will not hold elections for a further five – to return to the rule of law.
“In particular, China, which has massively increased its financial assistance to Fiji since the 2006 coup, should use its influence to resolve the constitutional crisis,” the report says.
Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific deputy director, Donna Guest, said: “China has long claimed it doesn’t interfere in another country’s affairs, but in Fiji China has clearly favoured one side of a long political dispute, and in the process ignored the human rights situation.”
Mr Bose was in Fiji when the constitution was abrogated on April 10 after a Court of Appeal verdict declaring as unlawful military chief Frank Bainimarama’s seizure of power. He said he interviewed more than 80people from many organisations and backgrounds in researching the report.
Under the Public Emergency Regulations imposed in April, Amnesty says, “Fiji’s military and security forces retain absolute control over the country’s population, and soldiers and police enjoy complete immunity from prosecution for their actions, including serious violations of human rights.”
The organisation describes “a pattern of government interference in the judiciary, severe censorship of the media, and the harassment and arrests of government critics”.
Judges are now appointed by the President at his sole discretion without any professional or other criteria, says the report. And section 5 of the Administration of Justice Decree says the President’s abrogation of the constitution and decrees he promulgates cannot be challenged in any court.
The report describes a “climate of fear” in Fiji, and quotes a “human rights defender” as saying: “I am so frightened of what they will do to any of us if we speak out. This is not the time to protest, as they will surely hurt us. They have no restraint. Once they start, I fear for our staff and their families.”
Amnesty says eight soldiers and a policeman found guilty of beating 19-year-old Nadi youth Sakiusa Rabaka to death were released from custody after serving just six weeks, and a soldier convicted over the death of villager Nimilote Verebasaga served less than two weeks. All have been reinstated in their previous positions.
The report says the provisions of section 16 of the the emergency regulations – which include the capacity of the Permanent Secretary for Information, Neumi Leweni, to ban broadcasts or publications that “promote disaffection or public alarm” – have been used by the authorities “to arrest and deport journalists and severely censor the press, instilling fear among journalists”.
This has led to distortions, it says. For example, one news report said the EU supported the Fiji government, to which it would give funds. The EU complained that in fact the opposite was true.
Reports of civil unrest internationally – for instance, in Thailand – have been censored. Twenty journalists have been arrested in the past few months, and all have subsequently been released. Journalists have instead been ordered to start practising “the journalism of hope”, Amnesty says.