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Fiji fends off outside criticism

Friday 16 September 2016 | Published in Regional

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FIJI – Fiji is continuing to fend off criticism over the detention of six prominent political figures in Suva last weekend.

Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, says Australia is watching Fiji closely, after the detention of the government’s political opponents who held a meeting allegedly without a permit.

Fierravanti-Wells said human rights were important everywhere including Fiji.

“The Australian government is well aware of these events and are watching developments. We are viewing them from the perspective of a government that strongly supports as a matter of principle the universal rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” she said.

Fierravanti-Wells said Fiji and Australia are neighbours and need to work better together.

New Zealand also said it is keeping a close watch on the arrest of opposition politicians in Fiji.

Foreign Affairs Minister MurrayMcCully said anything that constrained free speech and space for legitimate political debate is of concern to the New Zealand government.

Prime Minister John Key said he was also keeping a watch on the situation.

“The Fiji government won an election relatively recently, they enjoy widespread popular support – we would have thought they’d just get on and manage the country.

“They’ve got the support of the country and don’t need to do anything particularly silly.”

The New Zealand High Commissioner in Fiji was providing updates to the government, Key said.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has answered back saying he was grateful for New Zealand and Australia’s continued trade relations and assistance post Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston, but he criticised the countries for their interference in Fiji’s domestic affairs.

Bainimarama was opening a joint Fiji-Australia, Fiji-New Zealand business councils meeting yesterday where he made the comments.

“Let me begin by saying this – in common with most Fijians, I have a great deal of affection for Kiwis and Aussies as people,” he said. “I appreciate their down-to-earth, unpretentious natures,their irreverent sense of humour and especially their eagerness to come to the help of their mates when they are in trouble.”

“We are neighbours and friends and always will be. But we must work harder to align our sometimes testy political and diplomatic relationship more closely with the warm personal and vibrant commercial ties we share as people.”

Bainimarama said he was unhappy with John Key for hoping the Fiji Government wasn’t “silly” about enforcing the provisions of the Public Order Act.

“I don’t think “silly” was the appropriate word to use in the circumstances. Just as it was appropriate for him to say last year that I was “mouthing off” about the Pacific Islands Forum.

“Being silly or mouthing off is what a parent might say about a wayward child or a teacher might say about a problem student.”

Bainimarama suggested the comments were condescending.

He explained that he had made a promise to Fijians that the nightmare many suffered in the past arising from successive breakdowns of law and order would never be repeated.

As the Director of Public Prosecutions had yet to make a decision on the case of the six, Bainimarama said the courts would also deal with the issue independently if the DPP decided to prosecute them.

“So, why has this become and international incident? Why is the spotlight being turned on Fiji simply because it insists on its laws being upheld? Why all the unwarranted expressions of concern from foreign governments and organisations?”

A Fijian academic in New Zealand said the arrests and detention of the five men was a blow to the nation’s morale.

Canterbury University professor Steven Ratuva said the police actions would have serious implications for the future.

“There was a lot of hope after the election that there was going to be space for free discussion and free expression – and now, the interference of the police has raised questions about whether the kind of freedom which is entrenched in the constitution is really there.” - PNC