SUVA (Minority Rights Group International / Pacific Media Watch): Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has expressed grave concerns for freedom of expression and of association in Fiji, after the sentencing in a case concerning the respected Fijian rights organisation, the Citizens' Constitutional Forum (CCF).
The executive director of the CCF, Reverend Akuila Yabaki, was sentenced to three months imprisonment suspended for one year for contempt of court after publishing a critical article on Fiji's judiciary in the CCF newsletter.
The article detailed research by the UK's Law Society, which found that the judiciary in Fiji was not independent.
Rev Yabaki, the newsletter's editor-in-chief, and the CCF will together have to pay $20,000 in fines and court costs, in addition to the considerable legal costs they have incurred in organising their defence.
According to MRG, the case is certain to have a chilling effect on the freedom of Fijian civil society organisations to challenge and question the actions of the government.
“Fiji is currently going through a very delicate phase, as the country tries to agree a new constitution and heads into elections in 2014,' said Chris Chapman, MRG's head of conflict prevention.
“It is absolutely vital that civil society feels free to engage in these and other processes, and be critical of the government where necessary,” said Chapman.
In January this year, the Fiji government announced that it was rejecting a draft constitution, presented by a commission it had set up.
The draft had been prepared based on extensive consultations across all Fiji and drawing on more than 7000 submissions from the public.
Fiji is an ethnically diverse country, and the way that diversity has been addressed in previous constitutions has been at the heart of a series of political upheavals since 1987, MRG reported.
The government is due to release its own draft constitution this month.
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