SUVA (Pacific Media Watch / Fiji Times): Fiji's NGO Coalition on Human Rights (NGOCHR) says the short-lived termination of a student's scholarship could have a chilling effect on youth participation in the upcoming national elections.
Tamanirarama Jone Seruiraduvatu, 21, had his scholarship reinstated this week after it was terminated by the government's Tertiary Scholarship and Loans Board (TSLB) who initially accused Seruiraduvatu of “associating...in political agendas” after he campaigned for an opposition candidate.
The TSLB backtracked after an international campaign.
NGOCHR chair Shamima Ali said the scholarship should not have been revoked in the first place and that she was concerned the scholarship incident would hinder other young people from participating fully in the lead-up to national elections on September 17.
But she added that she hoped it would inspire young people to exercise their rights to freedom of political association.
“Tamanirarama’s reinstatement should be a story of hope for young people; that they can participate in the lead-up to the elections and voice their political opinions, without fear of unjust punishment,” said Ali.
“We call on all young people, especially first time voters, to participate in the elections as citizens, to voice their opinions, join the political party or campaign of their choice, and make their issues heard – it is not just their democratic right, but also their responsibility," said Ali.
Meanwhile, the Fiji Times newspaper reported that the University of South Pacific was investigating why and how the TSLB was given incorrect information that led to the scholarship being terminated.
"In response to your query regarding incorrect information given to the TSLB by USP which led to the termination of Tamanirarama Jone's scholarship, USP would like to confirm that we are currently investigating the matter and will issue a press release once details have been finalised," the Fiji Times quoted a USP spokesperson as saying.
Seruiraduvatu told the newspaper that he was trying to catch up on his studies for the end of semester exams yesterday:
"It was only after I received the call on Sunday night that I felt such a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. When I received my scholarship termination letter, I thought that was the end of my studies. I am so thankful to TSLB and their decision to reinstate my scholarship, now I can solely focus on my exams and passing. I was simply blown away by the kindness of people, those who didn't even know me but offered to assist me financially. I am grateful to them for believing in me so much to help me with my studies. That support was what kept me going and I do not think I would have been able to get through all of this without them."
An editorial in the Fiji Times today suggested that the TSLB should apologise to Seruiaduvatu.
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