Fiji Human Rights Activist Says Proposed Bill Has No Place In 'Democratic Nation'

Waqavonovono: Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill would curtail 'people's right to freedom of expression'

By Nasik Swami

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 19, 2017) – If the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2016 (Bill No. 28 of 2016) is passed by Parliament, the country will become unworthy to stand among other democratic nations, says human rights activist Peter Waqavonovono.

Mr Waqavonovono made this written submission to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights.

Mr Waqavonovono said the Bill was specifically aimed at curtailing the people's right to freedom of expression, a cornerstone of any sound democracy.

"This attempt to use a law to allow members of Parliament — who are elected by the people and therefore accountable to them and subject to their full scrutiny — to avoid prosecution and criticism is to our mind a dishonourable act by members and deserves to be exposed," he said.

Mr Waqavonovono submitted that Section 24 of the Bill violated guaranteed constitutional benchmarks on human rights contained in the Bill of Rights.

"We strongly feel that the aimed objective of Section 24 of this Bill is to suppress a citizen from being critical and to openly question actions of Government or Opposition in Parliament even if these criticisms are based on fact.

"If the Fijian Constitution is indeed a benchmark to go by, section 17 of the 2013 Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression and also publication.

"Parliament is elected by the people, and to have a law which limits voters from sharing their disappointment and to critic party lines as well as activities of certain MPs is indeed contradictory and unacceptable in a genuine democracy."

He said the penalties imposed under the Bill were unacceptable.

"What is missing from the Bill is a segment protecting citizens from members of Parliament," Mr Waqavonovono claimed.

Fiji Times Online.
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