Thursday, January 21, 2010

Amnesty International has hit out at Fiji's military regime

Amnesty International has hit out at Fiji's military regime for threatening critics to "keep low" and cooperate or be treated badly.

Fijian citizens are coming under increased pressure from their government to behave and watch what they say as the junta cracks down on any signs of dissent.

In the past few weeks alone the regime, in power since a 2006 coup, has issued a decree to cut pensions to elderly detractors, banned the Methodist Church from holding its conference until 2014 and refused entry to a Fiji-born Australian whose husband is a known critic.

The Pacific nation's land force commander, Brigadier Pita Driti, recently used a television interview to warn dissenters to keep quiet.

"There are only a few people who could term as adversaries - but I would discourage them from doing anything and I would like to tell them to keep low and try to cooperate with us in trying to maintain peace otherwise they will be in for something really hard in terms of how we will treat them this year," he told Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International New Zealand has condemned what it calls the the stifling of dissent and assault on freedom of expression.

Its Pacific researcher, Apolosi Bose, said the year was off to a bad start for the people of Fiji, fuelling grave concerns about how it will progress.

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"The regime has become comfortable with getting away with human rights abuses, because they are shutting down their opponents one by one," he said.

Bose urged the New Zealand and Australian governments to hold firm against the regime, upholding travel bans for political figures and increasing pressure to end human rights violations.

"They must intensify their calls for Fiji to immediately halt arbitrary arrests, intimidation, threats, assaults and detention of critics of the regime," he said.

Fiji's political situation has been unstable for the past three years as the regime missed several deadlines to hold elections and return the country to democracy.

But the situation deteriorated further last April when the government, through its frail former president Ratu Josefa Iloilo, abrogated the constitution and instituted emergency rule, allowing police, military and public servants to stop events they deem to be a threat to the country's security.

Since then elections have been set back to 2014, the media heavily censored, several government and judicial appointees sacked and replaced and dissenters threatened and deported.

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