March 06, 2012

Radio Australia: Doubts linger over democracy in Fiji.

Updated 6 March 2012, 21:49 AEST

For over five years, Fiji has been run by a military dictatorship.

It's not a description members and supporters of Commodore Frank Bainimarama's regime like about the way Fiji is being governed, but with the military officers involved in every tier of government, and the military council giving its support to regime, it is a correct one.

At the start of the year Commodore Bainimarama announced that he was ending emergency regulations.

The announcement was welcomed, until he also announced a amended public order decree, which has been described as being just as tough as the emergency laws, and many there say the situation has not changed.

Correspondent: Philippa McDonald

Speakers: Rev Tevita Banivanua. Fiji Methodist Church; Fiji Women's Rights Movement, Executive Director, Virisila Buadromo

Fiji's Interim Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum; Former MP and Fiji Trade Union Congress President Dan Urai;

Dr Mere Samisoni, Arrested former MP


McDONALD: At this squatter settlement on the outskirts of Suva the methodist church choir is in full flight.

The chief of the village is seated on the altar .. a sign of the close ties between Fiji's largest christian church and indigenous Fijians.

REV TEVITA: We've had our annual conference cancelled for the past three years and we have been stopped from holding other meetings, so an attempt I believe was made, to try and weaken the Methodist Church.

McDONALD: Reverend Tevita Banivanua is on the executive of Fiji's methodist church assembly...He's one of the few able to speak out. Several of the Church's other senior member are facing charges of attending unauthorised meetings during the country's emergency rule.

REV TEVITA: We have already appeared in court more than thirty times, probably, with just pre trial conference, and the pre-trial conference was just moved to another date, move it to another time so it has been very long for the church. We stand for justice, and we will always do that.

McDONALD: In a new year's address Fiji's military dictator Commodore Frank Bainimarama lifted emergency laws that have seen censors in Fiji's newsrooms and restrictions on public meetings. The interim prime minister says the changes would pave the way towards a return to democracy in September 2014. But at the same time, a public order amendment decree was introduced, which many say is more punitive that martial law.

The executive director of Fiji' women's rights movement, Virisila Buadromo says the new decree grants wider unfettered powers to the police and the military.

BUADROMO: We ourselves need to make the state accountable. We need to tell the state that you said we're going to have elections in 2014. We want to see that process happen as well. However we would like to see that process as a legitimate process and for us that means a process that is supported by the people driven by the people. And for that process to be genuine, there needs to be the lifting of or the repealing of certain laws which are limiting peoples' ability to be able to express themselves openly and without fear.

McDONALD: Fiji's attorney general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum denies any such restrictions are in place.

SAYED-KHAIYUM: The reality is that there is nobody stopped from making comments about the government under the rules that prevail in Fiji. So in terms of undermining a person's right to speak, obviously is misplaced.

McDONALD: But former m-p and Fiji's trade union congress president Dan Urai disagrees.

URAI: People are afraid to speak out in this country. The decrees have ensured that the fear continues, and they're still scared.

McDONALD: In November, the fifty two year was arrested.

URAI: I landed in Nadi airport on the Saturday morning, there was a police officer waiting for me telling me they wanted to see me at the police station in the airport. So I asked what was i being taken in for? The only reply i got was the orders came from the top it's our job to come and arrest you.

McDONALD: Mr Urai was kept in a cell for ten days without access to a lawyer before being charged with urging political violence. If convicted he faces life in prison. Another former m-p is also facing a hefty prison term.

Mere Samisoni is also one of Fiji's most successful businesswomen.

SAMISONI: I didn't expect it. I was coming off the plane and i was approached by the police and the lady inspector, she just said very quietly we are arresting you and you better come with us . It came as a shock but i contained myself.

McDONALD: The seventy three year old who believes in indigenous rights was held in a cell for five days. At the same time, Commodore Frank Bainimarama was announcing an end to martial law.

SAMISONI: I believe in freedom, I believe in democracy. And I believe in the right of human beings to make their choices and at the moment, that is just being violated.

McDONALD: What kind of a message does it send, when a 73 year old woman, a former MP is held without charge?

SAYED KHAIYUM: I understand in Australia you've had people of seventy five years old people, who've been charged as a paedophile. Age is not of significance, if a person has been charged with an offence. Let's not get emotional about this. The point is if a person has committed or has allegedly committed an offence under the paritcular law they will be charged according to that law they will appear before an independent judiciary.

McDONALD: Fiji's interim attorney general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says no one is being specifically targetted by the military regime.

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