Cautious start to lifting of political and media restrictions in Fiji | Pacific Beat

Cautious start to lifting of political and media restrictions in Fiji

Cautious start to lifting of political and media restrictions in Fiji

Posted 9 January 2012, 17:29 AEST

In Fiji, the lifting of the Public Emergency Regulations over the weekend has not led to a sudden blossoming of political debate and activity.

The regulations, which imposed strict controls on the media and on people's ability to meet or express their political views, have been in place since April 2009, when coup-leader and interim Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, abrogated the constitution. The lifting of the regulations has been welcomed by Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and the Commonwealth secretariat but in Fiji people are cautious.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Shamima Ali, Co-ordinator of the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre

ALI: I don't see anything in the media. There is a lot of talk about it within the human rights population, community. I know that over the weekend. But I think people are still a bit wary, because that has been counted with the announcement of the public quarter amendment decree and we still haven't been, one hasn't come to hand as yet for us to really know what that means and in what way is different from the PER.

GARRETT: One of the key changes with the lifting of the Public Emergency Regulations is the reduction of censorship pressure on the media. How have the newspapers, radio and television responded, are you seeing a difference?

ALI: Not at all, I have looked, I watched TV during the weekend and I've read the French media. I don't see much difference in it. I guess fears of censorship but also self-censorship by the media is going to take sometime unless people are. People are very cautious and they're able to analyse the new amendment decree, I think we're going to see a continuation of what we've seen in the past years.

GARRETT: As you mentioned, you haven't been able to get a hold of the public order amendment decree. What are your concerns about what might be in that decree?

ALI: It has left us wondering if the Public Emergency Regulations have been lifted, then why is it necessary to have this amendment decree? Why is it necessary when we already have a public order act and why can't we just work as we used to before, rather than this. The fact that there is one now and it has been announced, then we're saying well then, what's hidden in that, what is it then that necessitated, what is it. Is it going to be the same thing with a few changes here or there or are people going to be able to carry on their normal work, like holding meetings, workshops or whatever, for organisations like us are we our lobbying and bureaucracy work, our use of the media. Is that going to be allowed to carry on, is there going to be a public debate, the elections coming up. The other thing is also whether the PR has been lifted only for the constitutional process, rather than international dialogue, open debate, media debate, public debate, discussion, people are being able to meet and associate with each other and start preparing for the election. So these are the concerns.

GARRETT: Interim prime minister, Bainimarama, warned as he lifted the Public Emergency Regulations that personal, political and racial agendas can't be allowed to take precedence and continue behind the facade of a free press. What do you think he's saying there and how much of a threat is that?

ALI: I think it's quite a big threat there. I mean it's how that is why the amendment act is important is what how is terrorism, how is racialism, how are all these things defined? Because already we have that. People in one way or another, we still have that around in Fiji, so what will make the difference, what is it, what kind of.....? that needs to be defined. But I see it as preventing any kind of opposition, opposition to what is happening, you know at the moment and I think it's a warning for people who already have been coward almost into a place of submission to say none of that.

GARRETT: One of the key elements of all this is of course the army and how it will react. Have you seen any sign that the armies attitude is changing and that they will pull their horns in with the lifting of the Public Emergency Regulations?

ALI: Look, the army is so entrenched now in new law and law enforcement, that I really don't see any sign, because we just had some reports of allegedly some people been taken in because of a protest at some mining site and so on by the military rather than the police, so prior to the PR being lifted. So it will be a bit difficult, it will take time I think before the military realises that and unless orders have been given to them that you will not interfere in the running of the nation.

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