Authorities deny permit for union march once again

Peaceful assembly

Permit for peaceful protest march denied twice

For a second time, the authorities refused to grant the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC) permission to hold a peaceful protest march on 7th April 2018. No reason was offered for the refusal. FTUC had initially applied for a permit to hold the march on 24th February 2018, but this was rejected on the grounds that FTUC General Secretary Felix Anthony was under investigation. The reasoning was later refuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions who stated that no charges had been made against Anthony.

In regards to the authorities' decision, Anthony stated that:

“We do not see that as a legitimate reason because this is merely an investigation, there has been no charges laid, the matter is not in court. And quite apart from that, simply because there’s an investigation on an individual, we don’t believe that justifies the denial of fundamental rights to all the other citizens of this country”.

Expression

Sedition trial of Fiji Times continues

As previously documented on the CIVICUS Monitor, the Fiji Times is facing alleged sedition charges before the High Court, which human rights groups believe to be politically motivated. The case relates to the publication of a letter in the Nai Lalakai newspaper in April 2016 that allegedly contained controversial views about Muslims.

On 15th March, it was reported that Justice Thushara Rajasinghe needed more time to deliver his judgement on an application for constitutional redress by the letter writer charged with sedition, Josaia Waqabaca. Waqabaca’s lawyer has challenged the legality of the charges, asserting that his client's right to freedom of speech had been violated. On 20th March, the application was denied on the grounds that it constituted an abuse of the legal process.

Fiji Times general manager and publisher, Hank Arts, Nai Lalakai (Fiji Times’ vernacular edition) editor Anare Ravula and Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley also face charges related to their involvement in publishing the letter. 

On 28th March 2018, the High Court announced its deferment of another ruling to an objection made by the defence against amendments that the State was seeking on the criminal charges against three of the accused in the case. On 13th April 2018, a formal plea of 'not guilty' was made by all defendants. At the time of writing, the case was still before the High Court. .

The Attorney General on 16th March reportedly stated before parliament that not a single journalist has been prosecuted in Fiji and that no one tells the media what they can and cannot publish. The Attorney General's claim seems to contradict the alleged sedition case against the Fiji Times and its staff. 

Politically-motivated allegations against parliamentarian

In early March 2018, Parmod Chand, opposition parliamentarian from the National Federation Party (NFP), was accused of uttering racist comments at a political gathering in Vunavutu on 20th February, a charge he denies since he was not present at the meeting.

The allegations stem from claims by Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum referring to reports in the Fiji Sun newspaper that three people had overheard the comments. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama had also alluded earlier to the same allegation and directed the police to investigate Chand.

On 6th March 2018, the Fiji Sun, widely recognised as being actively pro-government, was notified by Chand’s lawyer regarding the allegations it had made against the opposition MP.

This is the fourth National Federation Party parliamentarian to be investigated during the current parliamentary term, in what is being perceived as an attempt to have opposition members of the party removed. Opposition leaders Biman Prasad, Tupou Draunidalo and Prem Singh have all faced similar attacks. Draunidalo was suspended and later relinquished her seat, thus allowing Chand to assume a position as MP.

Opposition politicians convicted of sedition

MP Mosese Bulitavu and leader of Fiji United Freedom Party, Jagath Karunaratne, were convicted by the Suva Magistrates Court on 27th March.The conviction excludes Bulitavu from campaigning in the upcoming general elections and he will need to vacate his seat.

Bulitavu and Karunaratne were charged with one count of sedition and convicted by Magistrate Deep­ika Prakash. The duo were found to have spray painted anti-government slogans at different places between Nausori and Suva in 2011, charges which both have denied.

Association

Attempt to weaken collective bargaining power of civil servants

On 26th February 2018, the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC) raised concerns over the government’s decision to have individual, fixed-term contracts for civil servants rather than a collective bargaining agreement.

According to the FTUC, such contracts did not provide protection or job security for workers. National Secretary Felix Anthony said that these contracts are heavily in favoured by the government as they can be terminated with just one month notice.

The Confederation of Public Sector Unions General Secretary Rajeshwar Singh had previously stated that:

"This is about the collective rights of employees, the whole of the public service. …what we are saying is that you (Government) are forcing the contract on these people. We are saying it is holding our members to ransom…the unilateral actions of the Government will result in insecurity of jobs in respect of our members and depriving them of housing loans etc, for an unstable five-year contract”.