15 April 2009 In the wake of the nullification of Fiji’s constitution last week, the United Nations human rights chief today expressed deep concern over media censorship and the sacking of judges in the Pacific archipelago nation.
“The long-term damage of undermining such fundamental institutions as the judiciary and the media cannot be underestimated,” Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, calling for the return to the rule of law, the reinstatement of judges and the lifting of restrictions on the media.
A state of emergency and decree were issued by President Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda on 10 April, moves deplored by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. As a result, all judges and magistrates were removed, along with others who had been appointed under the constitution.
The moves came on the heels of the 9 April ruling by Fiji’s Court of Appeals that the appointment of the Interim Government by the President following the 2006 coup was illegal. In that decision, the Court also advised Iloilovatu Uluivuda to appoint a neutral caretaker as Prime Minister to aid in holding parliamentary elections.
The island chain has suffered prolonged internal tensions between its indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities, and had four coups since 1987. Commodore Josaia V. Bainimarama, commander of Fiji’s military forces and current Prime Minister, came to power in a coup in December 2006, sparking criticism from the UN at the time.
On 10 April, President Iloilovatu Uluivuda also issued the Public Emergency Regulations, which seriously curtail the right to public assembly and freedom of expression and also give the military and law enforcement broad powers of arrest and detention.
These new regulations – which are valid for 30 days, but can be extended by the President – are also being applied to journalists, with the media facing heavy censorship.
Three foreign reporters have reportedly already have been deported from Fiji and a journalist and lawyer were detained and later released.
“A state of emergency should only be used to deal with a dire threat to the security of the nation, not to undermine the fundamental checks and balances of good government,” Ms. Pillay stressed, reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for the restoration of a legitimate government and constitutional order.
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