Fiji Police Shut Down Sugar Industry Dialogue; No Permit For Meeting

Supporters of Dialogue Fiji effort decry suppression of freedom

By Felix Chaudhary

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Sept. 8, 2016) – Police yesterday shut down a scheduled three-day discussion forum on the sugar industry.

The forum, organised by non-governmental organisation Dialogue Fiji, was scheduled to open at Pacific Harbour yesterday.

Police spokeswoman Ana Naisoro said yesterday that Dialogue Fiji did not have a permit for the Pearl Fiji Resort gathering.

Participants who had travelled from the Northern and Western Divisions to attend the forum commented that it was ironic that their freedom to meet had been restricted on Constitution Day.

"Where is our freedom and what use is the Constitution if we cannot be allowed to sit down and talk about issues freely and openly?" said president of the Fiji Cane Lorry Operators Association, Jitendra Singh, after he was shut out of the resort yesterday.

"Where is freedom of speech if sugar industry stakeholders can't be allowed to sit around a table and discuss openly issues and find solutions," he said.

"What's the use of celebrating Constitution Day if we are not allowed freedom to discuss the problems we are facing and find solutions."

Contacted by this newspaper yesterday, Sugar Ministry permanent secretary Yogesh Karan said he was aware of the Dialogue Fiji forum and expressed disappointment that the meeting was shut down.

"I had received an invite, but I had informed the organisers that I would not be able to attend because I was tied up at another event," he said.

"It is really sad and very disappointing that the forum was not allowed to go ahead."

Dialogue Fiji executive director Nilesh Lal said the NGO had held numerous forums at The Pearl Resort over the past eight years without the need to obtain permits.

"And this is why I am very disappointed and surprised at the reasons given by police when they closed this forum," he said.

"I informed the police officers who came to the resort that this was not a public forum, it was a closed forum with a limited number of people who were all here by invite.

"I also told them that it was held on private premises and there was nothing political about the issue, there were no politically motivated discussions, it was all about finding solutions to the sugar industry."

Professor Biman Prasad, one of the proposed panelists at the forum, said he was going to attend the dialogue in his capacity as an academic.

"This is very disappointing to say the least," he said.

"First of all I want to ask the Government to clarify under what law and what requirement did they allow the police to cancel a meeting organiSed by an NGO through invite in a private place about an important national issue.

"Why do they require that NGO to have a permit under the Public Order Act?

"Today ( yesterday) we are celebrating Constitution Day and my other question is - does this Constitution allow police to disrupt a properly organized meeting by an NGO?

"Are we becoming a police state?"

Police spokesperson Ana Naisoro, in a statement issued yesterday afternoon, said the meeting was not allowed to go ahead because the organisers had failed to obtain a permit.

Dialogue Fiji said it would apply for a permit today to hold the three-day meeting at a later date.

"And this is why I am very disappointed and surprised at the reasons given by police when they closed this forum," he said.

"I informed the police officers who came to the resort that this was not a public forum, it was a closed forum with a limited number of people who were all here by invite.

"I also told them that it was held on private premises and there was nothing political about the issue, there were no politically motivated discussions, it was all about finding solutions to the sugar industry."

Professor Biman Prasad, one of the proposed panellists at the forum, said he was going to attend the dialogue in his capacity as an academic.

Fiji Times Online.
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