Grave concerns for freedom of expression in Fiji, says rights group
Minority Rights Group International (MRG) today expressed grave concerns for freedom of expression and of association in Fiji, after the sentencing in a case concerning the respected Fijian rights organization, Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF).
The executive director of CCF, was sentenced to three months suspended for one year. Rev. Yabaki and CCF will together have to pay FJD 27,000 in fines and court costs, in addition to the considerable legal costs they have incurred in organising their defence.
The case arose when CCF published an article in its newsletter reporting research by the UK’s Law Society, which found that the judiciary in Fiji is not independent. As a result CCF, and Rev. Yabaki as the newsletter’s editor-in-chief, were prosecuted for contempt of court.
The case is certain to have a chilling effect on the freedom of Fijian civil society organizations to challenge and question the actions of the government.
‘Fiji is currently going through a very delicate phase, as the country tries to agree a new constitution and heads into elections in 2014. It is absolutely vital that civil society feels free to engage in these and other processes, and be critical of the government where necessary,’ said Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention.
In January this year, the Fiji government announced that it was rejecting a draft constitution, presented by a commission it had set up. The draft had been prepared based on extensive consultations across all of Fiji and drawing on over 7,000 submissions from the public.
Fiji is an ethnically diverse country, and the way that diversity has been addressed in previous constitutions has been at the heart of a series of political upheavals since 1987. The government is due to release its own text this month.
More information on MRG’s work in Fiji with our partner organisation CCF
Read MRG’s April 2013 report Fiji: the challenges and opportunities of diversity