How free is the Pacific? See which two countries fall short of 'free'

How free is the Pacific? See which two countries fall short of 'free'

How free is the Pacific? See which two countries fall short of 'free'

Updated 2 February 2018, 15:45 AEDT

Freedom House has ranked the freedom of Pacific nations out of 100.

Almost all countries in the Pacific are basically free, with only two exceptions — Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

That's according to the latest Global Freedom rankings, put out by the NGO Freedom House in the United States.

Freedom House gives each country a score out of 100 — countries like Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Palau tend to get very high scores, into the 90s.

In the Pacific two nations get a score of less than 70, which is the cut-off point for being considered only partly free — PNG on 63 and Fiji on only 59, the worst performing Pacific nation.

Sarah Repucci, senior director of global publications for Freedom House, said the ranking of "free" for the other Pacific nations may be because they are smaller.

"Small nations do better in our surveys," Ms Repucci said.

"I think that this is partially because they're more homogenous, so they face fewer internal challenges that end up leading to government repression in a lot of other countries.

"In some cases very close relationships with either the United States or Australia can also sometimes ease some of the internal tensions in some of these countries."

So why does Fiji do so poorly in the global freedom rankings?

Ms Repucci said there are a number of factors, including suppression of opposition activities, political interference in the judiciary and military and police brutality, undermining the rule of law.

"There seems to be a climate in which debate is stifled; people are not free to speak out on all issues and the government keeps, not a tight, but a tighter hold on political activity," she said.

Papua New Guinea, Fiji 'partly free'?

The assessment that Fiji is only "partly free" is something that Nalini Singh, chair of Fiji's NGO Coalition on Human Rights, agrees with.

She said a major challenge to greater progress towards freedom is that a whole generation has grown up not knowing anything but coups and instability, but there are signs things may be starting to change for the better.

"Very recently we see that the Government has approved marches and rallies, and we've had trade unions as well as the Coalition on Human Rights take to the streets to demand human rights for all," Ms Repucci said.

The other Pacific nation to be labelled "partly free" is Papua New Guinea, with Freedom House saying major concerns include corruption and the way last year's controversial elections were conducted.

"In Papua New Guinea we're seeing a chronically unstable democracy," Ms Repucci said.

"The elections are poorly administered; there's a lot of irregularities, there's often violence."

Freedom House also said there are challenges to the independence of the judiciary, with due process rights and freedom of movement related to the detentions of refugees on Manus Island.

Lawrence Steven, from the anti-corruption NGO Transparency PNG, agrees that the assessment of the country as being only partly free is a fair one, and the conduct of last year's election certainly played a role in that.

"It was bad. It's a fact that people have been deprived their rights," Mr Steven said.

"It's a reality that for years we've pretended things aren't so bad."

Mr Steven said PNG's "partly free" rating should be a wake-up call for the country to take action.

"It's only when we start to pay attention to what other people see as happening, as well as what we see ourselves, that we're likely to change things," he said.

"And change we must."