August 01, 2012

Fiji government guilty of "monstrous assault on free speech" - Law Soc

Updated 1 August 2012, 10:00 AEST

The Law Society of England and Wales has attacked Fiji's interim government for taking contempt procedings against the Citizen's Consitutional Forum.

Nigel Dodds, the Chair of the Law Society Charity, says the contempt proceedings are a "monstrous assault" on free speech.
The charges are based on details from a report Mr Dodd prepared on freedoms in Fiji.
Presenter:Geraldine Coutts
Speaker:Nigel Dodds, chair, Law Society of England and Wales Charity
DODDS: I didn't at the benefit of hearing the attorney-general speaking to you. Certainly the recent development by the bringing of contempt proceedings against the citizens constitutional forum would seem to indicate the freedom of speech is not a very high priority for the Fiji government. Indeed the whole tanour of their approach seems to be to suppress free speech.
COUTTS: Now, the contempt charges against the CCF come in response to or because of comments they made to reports that you wrote?
DODDS: Well that's right. My understanding is that the proceedings arise out of the quoting from my report and tactically providing details of the material within the report in their own publication.
COUTTS: And do you know where those comments were made? They were made in the press in Fiji?
DODDS: I understand they're in a publication made by that particular body and you'll appreciate that I'm somewhat remote from Fiji at the moment and that my telling is that it was in the publication.
COUTTS: And just to refresh peoples memories, you, Nigel Dodds went to Fiji at the beginning of the year undercover basically to do your research. What were your findings from that?
DODDS: Well, I was there in November of last year and I produced a report which has been approved by the Law Society of England and Wales and we have found that there is a significant absence of process and procedures, conditions of the rule of law in Fiji. These involve principle lack of freedom of association, a lack of freedom of expression, and most particularly an inability of Fijian citizens to be able to make any lawful challenge against the actions of the government.
COUTTS: What do you think needs to be done, because this sort of Sword of  Damocles I guess is hanging in Fiji, even though the decrees have been lifted, a lot of journalists are afraid to speak. There's a journalist from New York who tried to speak to a lot of journalists and they would speak off the record, but not on the record, but things in practice, there is no free speech or there's a culture of fear?
DODDS: Well, that's right. I mean certainly I have not felt able to identify any of the people I spoke to in Fiji, because of concerns about reprisals upon them. The prosecution for contempt NGO, which I don't think would be in anyway described as an subversive organisation seems to be monstrous. I mean if that's all they are doing is quoting from the report which I wrote and for which I accept full responsibility. It does seem that the attorney-general is seeking to suggest that they are well on their way to producing the free elections and new Constitution etc and to providing a full democratic framework. But you can't have a democratic framework without the nuts and bolts that go towards that and one of those is, of course, free speech and the ability to comment on the actions of government.
COUTTS: And it's interesting to see how this will pan out as well, because the Constitutional Forum by and large has been very supportive of the constitutional process?
DODDS: Well, that's right, and it seems to me that they're picking on the wrong people. Essentially they are as I understand it committed to peaceful progress, may have been supporters of the move towards elections and moving forward at effectively at the government's pace and it seems to me rather strange that they should seek to clamp down on this organisation for merely publishing a work or disclosing elements of a work which was created by an external body.
COUTTS: How much do you know about these contempt charges?
DODDS: Well, obviously I have limited knowledge because I've avoided direct contact with my sources in Fiji, because of their reprisals, so consequently I'm largely dependent upon media reports. I do know that an oral application was made for leave on 17th. July that the matters came before the court last Friday 27th. July, and that the organisation has been given 42 days to respond to the contempt charges.
COUTTS: And just briefly Mr. Dodds, the last time we spoke they were trying to negotiate, to arrange that international delegation to Fiji. Did that go ahead?
DODDS: No, it hasn't. The position is this, on the hand Christopher Prague, who is the DPP issued an invitation to me so that matters later I got wrong about Fiji system could be clarified and the Law Society of England and Wales has responded offering to pull back into the Law Society charity and to offer an international delegation for the International Bar Association. So consequently those looking at the matter would be independent, people of substance, and people with integrity. It seems that the Fiji government is not prepared to submit to that type of scrutiny. I would have thought that their recent actions against the Citizens Constitutional Forum really supports the proposition that the system is crying out for international scrutiny.
COUTTS: And have you caught up with the news that the New Zealand and Australian governments have agreed to lift or partially lift the sanctions against Fiji? What would be your response to that?
DODDS: Well, I can't speak for either government and certainly I think that's a judgement which governments have to make. I mean quite clearly, I'm sure that both the Australian and New Zealand government are committed to restoration of full democracy in Fiji. I wouldn't try and second guess the arrangements that they've made or the reasons for it, but certainly what is apparent is that no matter how swift progress is being made towards elections and they are still some way off that there are issues which are arising now to the people of Fiji which need to be addressed now.

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