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Nauru MPs remanded in custody

Wednesday 24 June 2015 | Published in Regional


YAREN – Two opposition MPs in Nauru have been refused bail following their arrest over last week’s anti-government protests.

Sprent Dabwido and Squire Jeremiah were told by the court they would be remanded in custody until July 2.

Last week’s protests were in response to corruption allegations against president Baron Waqa and justice minister David Adeang.

Another suspended MP, Mathew Batsiua, has also been charged over the protests but is not in custody.

Lockley Denuga, who was one of the protesters and a supporter of the opposition MPs, told the ABChe believes the court order is a delaying tactic by the government.

“There is no separation between justice and politics,” he said. “Whoever is presiding is obviously scared of the government and wouldn’t bother to hear the other side as well. We have no justice here.”

As the situation on Nauru grows more tense, there has been a call for the Pacific Islands Forum to censure Nauru for its recent crackdown on free speech.

Australian former resident magistrate on Nauru Peter Law – who was expelled along with chief justice Geoffrey Eames in January last year – said the Forum had a responsibility to respond.

“In 2000 they made a declaration, known as the Biketawa, to state that they would intervene where there were problems and breaches of democracy or the rule of law in member states,” Law said.

“Certainly they should be making representations with the Nauruan government. Australia and New Zealand should assist the Forum to bring Nauru back into the democratic fold.”

Forum chair Tommy Remengesau, president of Palau, released a statement this week calling for Nauru to come to a resolution on its own.

“I mostly hope for non-violent and peaceful demonstrations for the people of Nauru,” Remengesau said in the statement.

“The situation calls for Nauru’s constitution, the rule of law, and the people’s fundamental rights to apply.

“Patience is critical at this point for due process to take its course and Nauru to come to a peaceful resolution to this matter.”

Law said Nauru was operating effectively as a “parliamentary dictatorship”.

“You can’t ban the opposition indefinitely and decide you’re still a democratic country,” he said. “You can’t take away freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and try to suggest you’re a democratic country.

“We’ve got to remember it’s not just these MPs affected, it’s their representatives as well.

“We’ve got a third of the population of Nauru, they’ve lost their representation in parliament.”

Nauruan justice secretary Lionel Aingimea this week said the aim of the crackdown was merely to protect people and “to stop criticism, intimidation and harassment”.

“We’re not stopping criticism. People are still criticising the government and we do nothing about it,” he said. “It’s about protecting everybody.”

Pacific political analyst Tess Newton-Cain has long been critical of the way the rule of law is being applied in Nauru.

She has previously called on the Forum to show leadership and invoke sanctions available to it under the Biketawa Declaration.

“I think there are very worrying signs about the failure to observe due process,” Newton-Cain said. “I think the Forum is being cautious. I think they’ve realised they can’t continue to say nothing.”

She said the Forum had offered assistance to Nauru at the government’s invitation from 2004 to 2009, but said in the current political climate, intervention would appear to be the only option.

“It is a small community, so what we don’t want to see

is this political break down translating into social breakdown because that would be a very dangerous situation for Nauru,” she said.