The Fijian authorities must immediately end the harassment of journalists ahead of the parliamentary elections in September, said Amnesty International.
On Wednesday 25 June, a government body – the Fiji Media Industry Development Authority – called for two journalism academics from Fiji’s University of the South Pacific to be investigated for commenting on an apparent admission by the military that they used torture.
“This is the latest act of intimidation against journalists by the authorities. There is a worrying pattern in Fiji of the authorities trying to silence journalists ahead of the elections in September,” said Michael Hayworth, Crisis Response Campaign Coordinator for Amnesty International Australia.
“Attacks against the media are one of the most serious violations of the right to freedom of expression, particularly in the lead up to elections. The media must be allowed to freely publish information concerning the elections, including criticisms of the government and candidates, without fear of retribution.”
The right to freedom of expression remains severely restricted in Fiji by laws and regulations which impose heavy penalties, including custodial sentences, for those exercising their right to freedom of expression. Recent decrees such as the Public Order Amendment Decree 2012, Crimes Decree 2009, the Media Industry Development Decree 2010 and the new Constitution promulgated in September 2013 have stifled free speech, including the work of the media.
Amnesty International has documented cases of arrests, arbitrary detention and heavy fines against journalists and others solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression in doing their work as journalists.
“Current restrictions, combined with arrests and the practice of imposing heavy fines for breaching these regulations have had a chilling effect and stifled open debate on key matters of national interest,” said Michael Hayworth.
Amnesty International is calling for Fiji to lift existing restrictions on the media and ensure that journalists are not subject to prosecution, intimidation or harassment for undertaking their legitimate work and publishing diverse views.
Last week, in an article published in the Australian newspaper, The Age, Brigadier-General Tikoitoga reportedly admitted to acts of torture by the military since the 2006 coup, but claimed these were necessary to maintain civil order.
“Instead of persecuting journalists the Fijian government should instead focus its efforts on investigating cases of torture, which the military now appears to have admitted to openly,” said Michael Hayworth.