fiji UNCENSORED

May 29, 2009

Fiji’s junta judges

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 14:09
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OPINION

by Chris Merritt, The Australian

FEAR and loathing are reaching impressive new heights in Fiji after the most recent manoeuvres by that country’s dictatorship.

By stripping the Fiji Law Society of the right to issue practising certificates, the military government has all the tools it needs to embark on a purge of that country’s lawyers.

From the perspective of military strongman Frank Bainimarama, such a move would have a nice touch of symmetry.

The stunning reappointment of Anthony Gates as the dictatorship’s chief justice indicates that it is quite prepared to engage in a purge of the judiciary.

After sacking the entire judiciary, Bainimarama is now reappointing only those who are in the regime’s good books.

So why wouldn’t the regime engage in a similar move against lawyers?

Fiji is, after all, crawling with lawyers who are none too pleased about what the military is doing to their country.

But before jumping to conclusions, it is worth focusing on the man who must take responsibility for these moves: attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Those who know him say he is unlikely to be attracted to such a blunt method of achieving his goals. He sees himself as a far more subtle operator.

So instead of engaging in a purge, Sayed-Khaiyum might be hoping to achieve the same goal by other means.

A credible threat of a purge might be all he needs in order to encourage Fiji’s lawyers to toe the line. In many ways, this would be even more insidious than a purge.

If the regime’s goal is to intimidate the Law Society and its members, the heavy-handed weekend raid on the Law Society’s offices begins to make sense.

With burglar alarms screaming, the regime’s foot soldiers entered the Law Society’s offices on Saturday and removed every complaint file they could find about Law Society members. The burglar alarms were entirely appropriate.

While the attorney-general’s tactics are worth watching, the most startling move was by Gates. By signing on with the dictators last Friday, Gates has removed all doubt about where he stands and has played into the hands of his critics.

You can almost hear the staff of the International Bar Association in London shaking their heads as they mumble “we told you so”.

Gates featured prominently in an IBA report that had criticised the rule of law after the 2006 coup. That report, in turn, has itself been criticised.

Before the events of April 10, when the constitution was abrogated, Gates and the other judges who took office after the 2006 coup could at least argue that they held office under the constitution.

Their sacking in April prompted widespread sympathy and expressions of concern from the Australian Bar Association — an organisation that had previously warned of the risks of accepting judicial appointments in Fiji.

Because of the unconstitutional actions of the regime between the 2006 coup that brought Bainimarama to power and April 10, that argument had a few difficulties. But after April 10, it’s impossible.

What happened on Good Friday was not quite a coup, but it marked a major departure from the previous order.

It presented Fiji’s judges with a choice and it’s revealing to see how they have responded.

Thomas Hickie, who was also criticised in the IBA report, was one of the three Court of Appeal judges who precipitated the Good Friday upheaval by ruling that the Bainimarama regime held office illegally.

Hickie is back in Australia and will not accept office under the current arrangements.

Before April 10 there were two types of judge in Fiji: those whose commissions pre-dated the 2006 coup and those who were disparagingly referred to by their critics as “junta judges”.

After April 10, the debate about whether it was proper to take office after the 2006 coup has been overtaken by a much more clear-cut and important argument.

Fiji’s judges still fall into two categories.

But the dividing line is now April 10 and the divisions within the judiciary are much sharper. Those who swear to uphold the decrees of a dictator might be maintaining a form of order but that falls a long way short of the rule of law.  – fiji uncensored

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Veteran ABC journalist compares deportation in Fiji and PNG

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 09:31
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NEWS

AUSTRALIAN businesses in Papua New Guinea have been urged to value media freedom both the governments of PNG and Australia have to offer.
The advice came from veteran PNG commentator and former ABC correspondent in PNG, Sean Dorney.

“I’ve got a very simple message for those attending this PNG/Australia Business Forum – value the freedom that your media here in Papua New Guinea and in Australia work under,” Dorney said in his after-dinner speech at the PNG/Australia Business Council in
Madang early this week.

Such freedom, Dorney said was vital for democracy.

“I would like to compliment Papua New Guinea and successive PNG Governments for allowing this country to enjoy the benefits of a free and vibrant media.

“It is vital for democracy and, I believe, it is important not only for the economic health of PNG but also as an aid to attempts to achieve proper governance of this country.”

For a journalist that covers the Pacific, Dorney now holds the rare distinction of having being deported from PNG and most recently Fiji.

In an address laced with a humour and irony, the ABC journalist gave his speech the topic of “comparing and contrasting deportations from different Pacific nations”.

“I think I’m in a position to reveal that this place, Papua New Guinea, is far classier in its eviction of unwanted journalists than is Fiji – or at least that’s the case in my experience.

“Here, they not only let you back in, but later they give you an MBE!

“I can’t promise that would be true for everybody, of course, but my deep research into this one case and my own personal knowledge of the victim tells me that.”

In a tongue in cheek remark, Dorney said he would expect similar treatments from Fiji.

“I’ve got a bit of a dare for that despot over there in Suva. Frank, rise to the challenge that PNG has set.

“It’s pretty simple mathematics, mate!

“After I was deported from here in 1984, I was allowed back by 1987 and then, in 1990, I was awarded an MBE.

“Got it, Frank? Got it, Leweni?

“You guys have got less than three years to lift this ‘indefinite’ ban on me being allowed back in Fiji.

“And then if you are really serious about showing up PNG it is not only an election you’ve got to hold in 2014, Frank.

“It is an imperial honour – an award from the President of Fiji that I’ll be expecting!”

On a more serious note, Dorney told the business forum that life had been made very difficult for journalists in Fiji.

“At least six journalists from four different media outlets there have been picked up by the police since Easter and held for various periods under Fiji’s Emergency Regulations.

“The first one detained was Edwind Nand from Fiji One TV whose shocking crime was interviewing me about my deportation.

“That interview was never shown locally but it was sent to New Zealand and onto Australia.

“He was released after two nights at the Central Police Station with a warning.

“No one in the Fiji media is allowed to upset the new chief censor,
Lt-Col Neumi Leweni.”

For someone who has reported on Fiji for decades as Pacific correspondent for ABC’s Radio Australia and now as Pacific editor for its TV service, Australian Network, Dorney had a few things to say about Leweni.

“Leweni is an interesting case of what happens to those in favour with Commodore Bainimarama.

“Neumi was in the Royal Fiji Military Force band just a few years ago beating a drum. “He has had an amazingly rapid rise up through the ranks.

“When I first met him not all that long ago he was a Captain.

“Then he was promoted to Major.

“And since the events of Easter and befitting his new role as Fiji’s censorship czar as Permanent Secretary for Information, Communications and Archives, he’s been made a Lieutenant-Colonel.

“The censorship being imposed by Lt-Col Leweni on the local media in Fiji is total.

“No criticism whatsoever is allowed of Commodore Bainimarama or
anything he does or wants.” – fiji uncensored

Amnesty presents report on Fiji regime’s violations

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 09:21
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NEWS

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, according to Sky News online.

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. – fiji uncensored

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