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Fiji: New report reveals systemic human rights violations since April military crackdown

The deteriorating human rights situation in Fiji after the military crackdown which began in April 2009 demands international action, particularly from China, now one of Fiji’s biggest foreign donors, Amnesty International said in a report released today (7 September).

Based on Amnesty International’s research in Fiji during the crackdown, the report, ‘Fiji: Paradise Lost’, documents a pattern of government interference in the judiciary, severe censorship of the media and the harassment and arrests of government critics. Repressive tactics used by the interim military government to stifle any protests and intimidate critics include beatings, arbitrary arrests and detention, harassment of human rights defenders, and severe limitations on the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, and association.

Between 10 April and 20 May 2009, the police, military and other government officials arrested approximately 40 people, including journalists. Although all were subsequently released, Amnesty believes the authorities are using short-term arrests and intimidation as a tactic to suppress freedom of expression.

Police arrested 60-year-old politician Iliesa Duvuloco and five other men under sweeping emergency powers laws (the Public Emergency Regulations, passed 10 April) and detained them on 17 April for four days for distributing pamphlets highly critical of the leaders of the interim government. Military officers beat the six men and forced them to undertake military-type drills.

Amnesty International is calling on President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to repeal the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) when he abrogated Fiji’s constitution and reappointed Commodore Frank Bainimarama as Prime Minister. The PER gives Fiji’s military and security forces absolute control over the country’s population; soldiers and police enjoy complete immunity from prosecution for their actions, including serious violations of human rights.

Apolosi Bose, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher who was in Fiji at the time of the coup said:

“Security forces in Fiji have become increasingly menacing towards people who oppose the regime, including journalists and human rights defenders. Fiji is now caught in a downward spiral of human rights violations and repression. Only concerted international pressure can break this cycle.

“The ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists, lawyers, clergy, community leaders and critics by the authorities under the broad and sweeping provisions of the PER is a tactic used to suppress any form of dissent.”

Amnesty International called on Fiji’s international donors and investors to press the government 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.

Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director, said:

“China has long claimed that it doesn’t interfere in other countries’ affairs, but, in Fiji, China has clearly favoured one side of a long political dispute—and in the process ignored the country’s human rights situation.”

Note to editors:

On 5 December 2006, following a protracted public stand-off between the Laisenia Qarase-led multi party government and the military, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama executed a military coup d’etat against Qarase’s government.

One of the direct consequences of the military takeover in 2006 was extensive human rights violations by the security forces. Prominent political figures including critics of the military government were arbitrarily detained and subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the military. In February 2007, the military admitted to taking more than 1,100 people to the military barracks, who were then beaten, otherwise treated inhumanely and forced to do military type drills such as running and being forced to carry heavy loads.

Fiji’s coup culture began in May 1987 when then Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka overthrew the Indian dominated government of the Labour and National Federation Party Coalition. The Rabuka coup and subsequent moves by the interim government set up afterwards saw the rise of ethno-nationalism, culminating in a constitution which preserved political leadership and other constitutional positions for indigenous Fijians only. These changes marginalised the Indian community, descendants of those who had been brought from India by the then British colonial government.

Apolosi Bose, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher and author of the report, was in Fiji at the time the constitution was abrogated on 10 April. He conducted wide-ranging research and interviewed more than 80 people including representatives of various organisations and members of the public. He and Amnesty International colleagues have continued to monitor the situation closely and to maintain records of human rights abuses in Fiji as they are reported.

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