Another Court Ruling, Another Setback For Freedom in Fiji
Another Court Ruling, Another Setback For Freedom of Expression In Fiji
The sentencing of non-governmental organisation Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) and its director Reverend Akuila Yabaki for contempt of court is a major setback for the right to freedom of expression in Fiji, Amnesty International said today.
“We are calling on the case against CCF and Reverend Yabaki to be immediately dropped on appeal,” said Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Spokesperson.
“Charges of contempt of court must not be used in Fiji to restrict the important work carried out by human rights defenders and other civil society actors in the country.”
CCF, which has long worked to promote human rights in Fiji, has been charged following its publication of a summary of a report published by the UK’s Law Society Charity in the March 2012 edition of Tutaka, the organisation’s quarterly newsletter.
The report stated, among other things, that “there is no rule of law” in Fiji and that “the independence of the judiciary cannot be relied upon”.
The High Court judgement against CCF stated that the organisation had publicised the summary “to scandalise the Court and judiciary of Fiji.”
On 10 August 2013, CCF was fined $20,000 FJD and ordered to pay costs of $2,500 FJD and Reverend Yabaki was sentenced to 3 months in prison suspended for 12 months, and a fine of $2,000 FJD plus costs of $2,500.
“We have serious concerns that this verdict has had a chilling effect on civil society organisations and their activities in Fiji. It also discourages individuals and organisations from raising legitimate concerns about the rule of law and independence of the judiciary in the future.”
CCF and Reverend Yabaki have commenced an appeal of the decision to convict them, which was handed down on 3 May 2013.
Alarmingly not long ago, the Fiji Times, Fiji’s leading newspaper, and its Editor in Chief were also prosecuted for similar contempt charges in 2009 and 2012 after accurately reporting the comments of others on the Fiji judiciary. On 21 February 2013, the Fiji Times received a fine of $300,000 and the Editor in Chief was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years.
“We urge authorities to drop these charges, which are used to restrict the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression. We also call on the Fiji government to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to visit immediately, as promised in 2010, and investigate the repeated concerns raised by many member States about the deterioration of the rule of law in Fiji,” Schuetze said.