Restrictions on Freedom of Association and Assembly

  • 23rd March 2014
  • 2012
  • // Display comment count + link

To: Heads of Diplomatic Missions

The regime’s Attorney General has announced that discussions and consultations on the constitutional process can be conducted freely but we have been informed that the Police still require that permits be obtained for any meetings or gatherings, for whatever purpose.

In the circumstances, it now seems clear that non-government organisations are being discouraged or dissuaded from engaging in the various steps associated with the constitutional process. Moreover, it is also disturbing to note that certain organisations – Fiji Labour Party, National Farmers Union, Fiji Trades Union Congress – have been put under the regime’s microscope as opponents to be constantly harassed and intimidated.

Let me demonstrate this by attaching herewith documents relating to an application for a permit to hold the General Body Meeting (GBM) of the National Farmers Union.

The NFU applied to hold its GBM in Lautoka on 26 May 2012 after a lapse of 3 years when all such meetings were banned. Permit was granted but under conditions which require Police presence at the meeting plus other requirements that are unacceptable.

These requirements show that the political and trade union environment is not free and open and that certain political leaders and trade unions remain targeted by the regime. While it claims that there are no restrictions to holding these meetings and consultations on the constitutional process, the ground reality shows otherwise. 

The NFU has written to the Commissioner of Police expressing concern atthe conditions laid for the meeting and wanting to know if FLP and NFUare being especially targeted by the authorities. 

In this regard, I wish to put on record two other instances of harassment and intimidation involving me personally.The first occurred on the evening of 5 April 2012 when I left a friend’s restaurant in Lautoka around 9.30pm after having a few drinks anddinner with him. 

As soon as I left, he was confronted by three Army officers who acting in an intimidatory manner, wanted to know from him why I had visited his restaurant and what discussions had taken place between us. The Army officers spoke to him in threatening tones and left after making thepurpose of their visit understo  

The second incident occurred in Ba on 28 April 2012 at around 8.30pmwhen I was at the Ba Hotel in a private social gathering of close friends. There were only five of us in the Hotel’s meeting room when three Police officers, including the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of the Ba Police Station, walked in and told the Hotel staff they wanted to see me. I called them in and enquired as to the purpose of their visit. The OC told me that he had been phoned by someone that I was having a meeting and he had come to check this out. Naturally, I was infuriated and gave him a piece of my mind. 

As far as I am concerned, I have no hesitation in saying that Fiji is a Police state today and all this talk of a free environment is utter nonsense. Phones are tapped, meetings are infiltrated, and listening devices are used to gather information about the activities of those the regime perceives as their opponents.

I believe your government has offered to provide technical/financial assistance to the regime to facilitate the constitutional process announced by the Prime Minister on 9 March 2012. The consideration here is to assist with Fiji’s return to democratic rule via free and credible general elections. 

While we appreciate your government’s intentions in this regard, we would urge that engagement with the regime should only be considered if it (the regime) is prepared to waive the requirement to obtain a permit for meetings and/or gatherings conducted in the course of the various steps in the constitutional process as announced by the Prime Minister on 9March 2012.

Political parties and civil society organisations must be guaranteed the freedom to engage freely with their constituents in the constitution making process – there must be no permit requirement. 

Second, the Public Order (Amendment) Decree 2012 must be revoked and the Public Order Act reinstated. The Act has adequate provisions to deal with issues of national security.

Third, the electoral process – registration of voters, compilation of electoral rolls, oversight of political parties etc should be the sole responsibility of the Supervisor of Elections and should be totally detached from the administration. At present, the Attorney General has assumed charge of the Elections Office. This is not only unethical but detracts, quite absurdly, from the requirement to keep the entire electoral process free from interference, control or manipulation by the government of the day. 

It is no secret that the top echelons of the regime have a vested interest in the electoral outcome as they have made known their intention to form a political party to contest the next general election

Fourth, all necessary steps must be taken to ensure that the Constitutional Commission is guaranteed complete independence in the exercise of its functions.  

We note with some concern that so far no legal framework has been formulated for the constitutional process. The appointment and terms of reference of the Constitutional Commission have not been gazetted. Its administrative and funding arrangements have not been announced nor is there information as to when the full commission will meet to begin its work. 

We would not wish to see senior staff positions in the Commission being occupied by seconded civil servants who, in all honesty, cannot be perceived to be neutral.

According to the timetable announced for the process, we are now supposed to be in the civic education phase. However, there is no information as to the written material which was to be prepared by the regime and handed out to the public at large for use in the civic education programme. 

The whole exercise seems to be handled in a haphazard and disjointed manner. The people are not kept informed. All this could very well be because of a lack of funding for the process as no provision seems to have been made for this exercise in the 2012 Budget – it probably being assumed that external sources would provide the required funds. 

We have considered it necessary to draw your attention to the above matters as we deem them to be of sufficient importance deserving your government’s consideration before it commits itself to provide financial/technical assistance to the regime

Mahendra P. Chaudhry

10 May 2012