July 20, 2012

Cautious welcome as Fiji lifts private meeting ban

By Pacific correspondent Campbell Cooney and staff
Updated July 20, 2012 07:19:36

The decision in Fiji to lift a ban on private meetings of more than three people without a permit, has been cautiously welcomed by unions and opposition groups.

The relaxed restrictions will allow private gatherings of more than three people without needing a permit.

Since 2009 a number of Fijian political parties, unions and churches have been raided and charged with holding an illegal meeting.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiuym says the lifting of the requirement for government approval to hold meetings allows organisations including political parties to discuss their submission to the Constitutional Commission.

"There is no requirement for permits any more for meetings," he aid.

"So from today onwards, until the time the commission hands the draft constitution to the president, anybody can go and have a meeting without having to apply for a permit.

He says permits still apply for meetings on public roads, parks, gardens or sporting centres.

"Notwithstanding that, you're still bound to follow the law, and the law is, just because you no longer require a permit, doesn't mean that in that meeting you can go and do anything you like," he said.

'Maintain the momentum'
The National secretary of Fiji's Bank and Financial Sector Employees Union, Parmod Rae, has told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat it is good news but he more needs to be done.

"It doesn't go far enough because a number of other restrictions remain in place," he said.

"These concern freedom of expression, freedom of association, restrictions on the media that continue.

"What we would want to impress...is that you've started a momentum here, maintain the momentum and review all those other laws that restrict people's freedoms."

Mr Rae says he wants to find out if the military backed regime introduces new decrees which just enshrine the old meeting bans into new legislation.

"Given the record with this sort of thing, it's quite possible that there may be other restrictions imposed," he said.

"Given the last time restrictions were lifted and others imposed, it's anybody's guess what actually in those decrees."

The leader of the opposition Fiji Labour Party, Mahendra Chaudhry says he's not sure that the security forces will necessarily go along with the relaxation of the rules.

"They seem to have different ideas, so we'll have to wait and see what the police do now, whether they will let people get on with their meetings or whether they will still interfere" he said.

"If they don't interfere, then I think people can get on with what they have to do."

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