(December 3) – Fiji’s government should end attacks on critics and lift censorship, Human Rights Watch said today in a joint letter with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), International Federation of Journalists, and Front Line Defenders. The letter was sent on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the 2006 coup d’etat by Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, who has since assumed the post of prime minister.
Over the past five years, Fiji’s military government has aggressively curtailed Fiji Islanders’ rights to freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, and association, the groups said. The military and police have arbitrarily arrested and detained human rights defenders, journalists, and labor and religious leaders.
“This anniversary is a sad reminder of the abuses Fiji Islanders have faced under this military government,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to stop making empty promises and respect basic rights.”
At the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2010, Fiji’s ambassador, Peceli Vocea, pledged that the government would improve its human rights situation. Eighteen months later, the government continues to curb basic freedoms. Rather than embracing the important role that civil society, human rights defenders, and trade unions play in good governance, the Fiji government has systematically repressed such groups, the organizations said.
The four organizations called on the government to address the ongoing crackdown on civil society and to stop renewing the 2009 Public Emergency Regulations. The regulations restrict free speech, assembly and association, and grant the military sweeping powers of arrest and detention. Despite promises to lift the regulations, the government continues to renew them and used them as a pretext to harass and detain those perceived to be critical of the government.
The government has also aggressively sought to dismantle the labor movement. For instance, the Essential Industries Decree issued in July – the latest in a series of regressive laws that sharply curtail the rights of unions – voided all existing collective bargaining agreements and essentially eliminated the right to strike in any industry the government designates “essential.”
“This year, the military regime has engaged in an all-out assault on trade unionism in Fiji, by brute force, detention, threats, and outlandish executive decrees,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary. “These steps have undermined the ability of trade unions to defend the fundamental rights of workers on the job, and more, have sown a climate of fear and impunity.”
The groups also called on the government to cease media censorship. The government continues to assert control over published media content, stations government censors in newsrooms, and punishes journalists for material deemed anti-government. The Media Industry Development Decree (Media Decree), which took effect June 2010, forbids publications that are “against public interest or order” and restricts foreign media ownership.
The human rights, trade union, justice, and news organizations signing the letter urged the Fiji government to make a public commitment to take all necessary measures to protect human rights in Fiji.