Fourteen members of the Fiji Womens Rights Movement are being questioned by police, but have not been charged with any offence. The Fiji Women's Rights Movement says the people who were detained were sitting by the water having lunch, and wearing t-shirts printed with the message: "C'mon Fiji make budgets public now."
The budget, announced today, boosts the pay of civil servants. The opposition People's Democratic Party has welcomed what it calls an excellent budget. But another opposition party, Labour, has criticised it as a reckless, vote buying budget.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Police spokesperson Ana Naisoro
Fiji activist Sharon Baghwan Rolls
NAISORO: It's just to confirm that a group of people who were just taken in for questioning for allegedly just gathering in a public place without a permit. It's just an normal police procedure that was undertaken and they will be taken in for questioning and that's all we can reveal at this stage.
HILL: Have they been charged with anything yet?
NAISORO: No, no.
HILL: Are they still in detention?
NAISORO: I would have to get an update for you on that.
HILL: What was that they were doing that was actually against the law though. My understanding was they were wearing tee-shirts with a slogan on them?
NAISORO: Ah, yes, that was just one of the reasons, but like I said, we just await the questioning process to complete and then we'll make the relevant information known,
HILL: Fiji police Chief Operations Officer, assistant commissioner Rusiate Tudravu says the group was taken in for routine questioning regarding their purpose and timing, considering the Budget was being announced publicly at the time of the gathering. He says the group will be questioned and released this afternoon. Fiji activist Sharon Baghwan Rolls says the incident shows that despite the interim government saying it has lifted restrictions on political activity, the fact is it remains difficult for people to get their opinions heard.
ROLLS: There was a gathering by civil society to meet, they were wearing tee-shirts once again, as happened quite recently with the young people who were demonstrating about the Constitution process. There's just no safe themes for people to demonstrate an opinion.
HILL: Why would that happen, because my understanding is that there are no restrictions on political gatherings or demonstrations anymore. The interim government was quite specific about that.
ROLLS: Yes, but if you do look at the Constitution under the Bill of Rights, they also do talk about limitations on those rights, so there's obviously that is where they can view it such like and that's the reality for the people of Fiji and particularly for people who feel that they're need to be much better accountability, particularly in light of the fact that as you said, we've been told there are freedoms, we've been told there is a new Constitution and place and in that in the Constitution, we have the freedoms of expression, of organising, and as we move towards the elections, also we need to have these spaces for people to come together and discuss and engage. This is all part of a transition back to parliamentary democracy.
HILL: Are you suggesting that the police action in taking these people in for questioning was somehow against the law or against the Constitution?
ROLLS: I would say that the government needs to be very clear now as to what the Constitution stands for, particularly when we do have a Bill of Rights and we are part of a movement, as I said, a transition back to parliamentary democracy. We need to be able to come together as citizens, as civil society, to voice an opinion, to share our concerns, and this is just one opinion about a national budget. A national budget that's coming in for a very important year in Fiji's political history and one where people very strongly about the kinds of guidelines and the kinds of ways in which national budgets should be determined and the other procedures that we don't have right now, such as the Auditor's Report and other procedures that one would get in a normal parliamentary process. So it's time. We've had several years of not being able to fully participate in that budget making process and to be able to free communicate and demonstrate an opinion is going to be very critical in this transition.