NGOs in Fiji are calling on the Attorney General to remove a provision in the Electoral Decree which restricts them from being involved with election education or debate in any way.
TRANSCRIPTNGOs in Fiji say they are asking the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, to remove a section in the Electoral Decree which restricts them from campaigning.
Section 115 says any group receiving foreign funding cannot organise debates, public forums, meetings, panel discussions or publish information relating to the election - making much of the work of many NGOs redundant.
Violating the decree can result in up to 10 years in jail and a 27,000 US dollar fine.
Mary Baines reports.
The chair of the NGO Coalition for Human Rights Fiji, Shamima Ali, says it has met with Mr Sayed-Khaiyum to voice its concerns with Section 115.
SHAMIMA ALI: We needed some clarification on issues - what is a campaign, and about some of the NGOs doing civic education which is part and parcel of their work, and participation at political party rallies to ensure that politicians are talking about issues that are of concern to us.Ms Ali says they were told NGOs' work can continue as usual, as long as it is not related to any election issue or interferes with how people may vote. She says that means groups doing civic education must now have all their materials scrutinised by the elections supervisor.
SHAMIMA ALI: As long as it does not influence people as to how they vote. So we must not talk about elections and so on. We can carry on with our normal work. Those groups that are going to be doing civic education around the elections they need all their materials and programmes passed by the supervisor of elections and elections office.Ms Ali says the provision restricts the freedom of speech, and the NGO grouping will be writing a letter to Mr Sayed-Khaiyum to request it be removed from the Electoral Decree. A Fiji academic, Wadan Narsey says such a provision suggests the Bainimarama government is afraid that a foreign government will use the NGOs they fund to try to influence the election result.
WADAN NARSEY: It is a very, very far-fetched reasoning, because these organisations, I mean they're all very, very ethical organisations in my opinion, they all have very, very good constitutions, and principles and charters and missions and all that, and in no way whatsoever would you accuse these organisations of trying to serve foreign political interests.Professor Narsey says such a measure is draconian and regressive, and means civil societies cannot fulfill their responsibilities.
WADAN NARSEY: The general climate here is that even NGOs, you know however brave they are, would be extremely vulnerable if they were to go into any of these education campaigns to try and get the public aware of the issues, which they as organisations are tasked to address.But the head of the Citizens Constitutional Forum, the Reverend Akuila Yabaki, says he does not believe the section is applicable to its role as a pro-democracy movement which is not aligned to any political party. The Reverend Yabaki says the CCF's work is not campaigning because all political parties have benefited equally from it.
AKUILA YABAKI: We do engage creatively with all stakeholders by providing critical and alternative comments on matters of importance to members of the public. We do not regard this as a role which would be seen as campaign activities. We do not think that section 115 of the Electoral Decree is applicable to our role.The Reverend Yabaki says the CCF will continue to distribute its booklets on the analysis of the constitution, but will get legal advice on how the word campaign could be interpreted.