Fiji Politicians Detained After Panel Discussion Consider All Options

Singh, Baba, Chaudhry say arrest violated basic human rights

By Nasik Swami

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Sept. 14, 2016) – Three of Fiji's politicians who were detained over the weekend for allegedly attending a panel discussion without a permit feel their arrest by police breached their fundamental human rights.

Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions (FICTU) general secretary Attar Singh, former deputy prime minister and academic Dr Tupeni Baba and Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry have confirmed their intention to pursue this matter further.

"I am going to suggest to the others who were arrested and had to go through this rigmarole of detention and questioning that we should meet collectively and take a collective action instead of doing this individually," Mr Chaudhry said.

"We will have to draw this to the attention of the human rights organisations — UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, to the governments of Australia and New Zealand, the Forum Island Countries, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the EU as they have issued a very strong statement."

He claimed the issue was a question of the "now dying development assistance to Fiji based on human rights record of the country".

National Federation Party leader Dr Biman Prasad said he was keeping his options open.

"Well, at the moment, my position is that police released us on Sunday and told us the matter has been referred to the (Office) of the Director of Public Prosecutions for their decision, whether any charge is going to be laid or not," Dr Prasad said.

"And we respect that decision by the police and we will wait for the ODPP to make the decision.

"We also like the statement from the Prime Minister which said these institutions would independently deal with the issue and that's reassuring in terms of how the law should operate."

Dr Baba said he would explore his options saying police should have stopped the meeting knowing it did not have a permit.

Mr Singh said he would file a complaint to the ILO regarding the issue.

SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka said he would not take the matter further.

"That's not my prerogative. I am waiting for further advice from the police," Mr Rabuka said.

Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission director Ashwin Raj said appealing to the international human rights accountability institutions and to the pathos of donor agencies remained their prerogative.

"We need to break out of this vicious cycle in which the rule of law, human rights and democracy are seen as an important precondition for development assistance by the international community, human rights activists and politicians and at the same time, bypass our own justice system by appealing to international human rights accountability institutions and development partners, and then lamenting that there is no rule of law, with no possibility of substantive human rights and democracy in Fiji," Mr Raj said.

Ironically, he said, the same development partners would then pump in millions of dollars through projects to strengthen rule of law, human rights and democracy in Fiji.

"So we remain in perpetual crisis. We need to test the robustness, the rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution in a court of law and allow for our courts to independently adjudicate before we proceed to complain to ILO, Human Rights Council, Amnesty International," he said.

Fiji Times Online.
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