Fiji lives in climate of fear: Amnesty

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 10:05 07/08/2014
frank bainarama

LEADER: Fiji goes to the polls in September for the first time since Frank Bainimarama seized power in the 2006 coup .

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Fiji has lived under a climate of fear in the eight-year rule of military coup leader Frank Bainimarama, Amnesty International says.

In a briefing paper on Fiji, published ahead of next month's democracy-restoring elections, Amnesty said Bainimarama's rule had seen serious human rights violations fuelling a climate of fear that must be brought to an end.

"A combination of draconian laws, a pattern of intimidation and harassment of those who are critical of the Government, as well as reports of torture by the security forces, have created a climate of fear in Fiji," Amnesty's New Zealand executive director Grant Bayldon said.

Bainimarama, who arrives in Auckland tomorrow to campaign ahead of the September 17 elections, will address a rally in Manukau on Saturday, campaigning for his "Fiji First" political party.

Amnesty's report documents what it said were the continued suppression of freedom of expression, violations of workers' rights and the use of torture by security forces, all of which the Government must urgently address.

Human-rights defenders, journalists and trade union leaders continued to face harassment and intimidation for peacefully carrying out their legitimate work, it said.

The briefing documents the case of Kris Prasad, an advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

He was one of 12 people arrested in September 2013 for peacefully protesting against the new constitution which came into force that month.

In April, police again contacted Prasad and other activists, saying that they wanted to reopen the investigation and conduct further interviews - measures Prasad described as "tactics of intimidation".

"Restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association in Fiji should be lifted and acts of intimidation and harassment against government critics and peaceful activists must stop," Bayldon said.

The regime continues to violate workers' rights by banning strikes for many industries and by intimidating and harassing trade union officials, Amnesty said.

Compounding the climate of fear are repeated reports of Fijian security forces using torture and other ill-treatment against people in custody.

Perpetrators of these and other human rights violations enjoy impunity, with broad amnesties entrenched in the new constitution.

In a video that surfaced online in March last year, security forces can be seen assaulting a recaptured prisoner.

In the film, Iowene Bendito was repeatedly hit with sticks and batons, while another man was dragged along the ground by a dog. Following the release of the video, Bainimarama reportedly said he would "stand by his men".

Bayldon said torture and ill treatment by security forces must be stopped and those responsible for such crimes held to account.

"It is not enough to say the right things when abroad while allowing the repression to continue at home," he said.

"Prime Minister Bainimarama and his government should act now to end the climate of fear."

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