No Charges After Fiji Politicians Detained Following Public Forum

Former PM Rabuka will not push for redress; four others still consider options

By Nasik Swami

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Oct. 18, 2016) – SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka does not intend to push for any redress, while four other politicians are contemplating further action over their arrest and detention by police last month after the Director of Public Prosecutions decided there wasn't enough evidence to charge them for breaching the Public Order Act and the Crimes Decree.

The four are National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad, Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions general secretary Attar Singh and academic Dr Tupeni Baba.

They, with Mr Rabuka and activist Jone Dakuvula, were arrested for participating in a panel discussion organised by human rights NGO Pacific Dialogue last month that was held without a permit as per the requirement of the Public Order Act.

Yesterday, Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde said no charges would be laid because of "insufficient evidence".

He added the arrest by police of the six was selective as a large number of people had taken part in the meeting.

However, Mr Pryde was concerned that it took police five days after the meeting to act when they must have been aware that the divisional police commander had not granted a permit.

Last night, Mr Rabuka said he was relieved with the decision.

"Just want that to be a warning to all — nobody is above the law — and whenever a complaint is made to the police that someone may have broken the law, they would be investigated according to police standing operating procedures, which could include but not always the case, the overnight detention of the suspects. I was subjected to those, and I don't intend to push for any redress," he said.

Prof Prasad said the decision by the DPP was a relief to him and his family.

Prof Prasad claimed the arrest was a political intimidation because of the way it happened from his home, in front of his family members.

He said it was important for authorities to take note of concerns the DPP raised in his decision.

Mr Chaudhry said while the DPP had given his decision, the matter does not rest there.

"We will be writing to the DPP's office to seek a proper interpretation and application of the legislation," he said.

"We either have freedom of association, assembly and expression in this country or we don't. If Section 8 of the Public Order is not in conformity with the Constitution, then it has to be changed."

Dr Baba said: "The Constitution is very important in giving us that freedom."

Dr Baba said such restrictions on freedom of expression and speech was not right when government continued to speak everyday as elections draw closer.

Mr Singh said he believed from the beginning that no charges would be laid against them because no law was broken.

He said he would talk to the others who were arrested to deal with the matter collectively.

Mr Pryde said "following a careful review of the evidence, I am satisfied that there is insufficient evidence to sustain a charge for a breach of the Public Order Act in so far as there was no intention on the part of these persons to attend the meeting in breach of the Act".

"In other words, other than the event organiser, Jone Dakuvula, they did not attend the meeting knowing that no permit had been issued by the Divisional Police Commander," he said.

Mr Pryde said Mr Dakuvula was responsible for obtaining a permit and appeared to believe that because the meeting was to be held in a church, no permit was required.

"This is incorrect. Members of the public need to be aware of the restrictions surrounding public meetings under the Public Order Act and its amendments, which include meetings at places to where the public are given access notwithstanding the meeting, may take place in a church."

He said police had powers to stop and disperse any public meeting if they suspected on reasonable grounds that there has been a breach of the Act or that they believe a breach of public order may occur.

Fiji Times Online.
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