SUVA (Fiji One News / Pacific Media Watch / Fiji Times / Fiji Sun): The Fiji government has continued its bid to clamp down on civil society ahead of the elections on September 17, this time lambasting a local non-government organisation for its pre-election advocacy work.
In a new curb on freedom of expression, Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told Fiji One News that all voter education had to be approved by Fiji's Electoral Commission.
"If you let them [NGOs] loose and they have a particular agenda, they can actually go out in the rural areas and tell people the wrong thing," said Sayed-Khaiyum.
Sayed-Khaiyum then accused the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum of peddling lies in a booklet and of being "funded by foreign entities and governments".
Journalist Losalini Rasoqosoqo of the Fiji Sun reported that Sayed-Khaiyum also demanded to know what the CCF political agenda was before insisting that the organisation withdraw its booklet.
“Going down to grassroots people and spreading misinformation. They are spreading lies. They are telling them untruths under the banners of the supposedly civil society organisations, which is waging propaganda," Sayed-Khaiyum said in another Fiji Sun interview.
Sayed-Khaiyum said he was contemplating what action to take against the CCF if it refused to withdraw the booklet.
CCF defends booklet
The CCF defended its booklet in the Fiji Times, saying it was written by "experts".
The Fiji government has lashed out at the media and has been in trouble with the Law Society and Fiji Trade Union Congress in the last week.
First the government's media monitoring statutory body, MIDA (which was set up by military decree), announced that it would force Fiji One News to retract a broadcast, and apologise for airing a public political meeting where ailevu chief Ratu Timoci Vesikula criticised Fiji's Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.
Although the matter had never been brought before a court, MIDA chairperson Ashwin Raj said that Ratu Timoci was guilty of "hate speech", and that Ratu Timoci had contravened the 2009 Crimes Decree, which carries a 10 year jail sentence.
And just days ago, the Fiji Law Society warned against a military decree which allows government to snoop on all internet and phone communications in the 48 hours prior to the elections.
The Fiji Trade Union Congress also slammed the government over the weekend after a new decree was passed preventing independent candidates from registering for the elections unless they handed in 1000 registered voters' names, signatures, addresses and occupation details along with their nominations.
The trade union movement said this would negatively affect many trade unionists who wanted to stand in the elections and that they would not obey the decree.
Last year, 14 activists from civil society organisations including Dialogue Fiji and the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre were arrested for wearing T-shirts that said "C'mon Fiji, make budgets public now".
The current Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, seized control of Fiji in a military coup in 2006, later abolishing the constitution in 2009.
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