Church restrictions a disturbing development
MEDIA RELEASE – For immediate use, 8 September 2011
Law Society says church restrictions a disturbing development
The ban which Fiji’s Military Regime and now Police Force has placed on Methodist Church of Fiji gatherings and meetings is a disturbing development in a country where the rule of law is already eroded, the New Zealand Law Society said today.
Law Society President Jonathan Temm said the Law Society had been approached by concerned church officials who were devastated at the move.
He said the ban on religious assembly had been closely followed by charges of unlawful assembly against the President of the Fiji Trade Union Congress Daniel Urai and fellow trade unionist Nitin Gounder. The two were arrested after meeting workers following a military regime directive restricting collective bargaining.
“The right to peaceful assembly and the freedom of religion are recognised fundamental rights,” Mr Temm said.
“The Law Society has consistently expressed its concern at decrees by the Fijian military which appear to have undermined the independence of the Fijian judiciary and interfered with the functioning of the Fiji Law Society. The latest developments appear to show that Fiji is moving further away from the freedoms and justice system which are fundamental to a democratic society.”
Mr Temm said the Law Society had received a copy of a Fiji Police Force “Operation Directive” which was issued last week. This bans all Methodist Church bazaars, fundraising, rallies, choir practice, camping, open air meetings and sports days. The directive says the Methodist Church “normal Sunday church service” is the only gathering permitted.
“New Zealand is rightly regarded as having a high adherence to the rule of law and to protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms,” he said.
“The New Zealand Law Society believes it is important that it draws attention to what seems to be a deterioration in those rights and attacks on personal freedoms in a country which is one of our closest Pacific neighbours.”