Freedom in the World
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Freedom in the World Scores
Fiji’s civil liberties rating declined from 3 to 4 due to the increasing influence of the military in the country’s police force, the prevalence of abuse by police and military personnel of prisoners and people accused of crimes, and the temporary detention of opposition members and others who took part in a public forum on the controversial 2013 constitution.
The repressive climate that followed a 2006 coup has eased since democratic elections were held in 2014. However, the ruling party frequently interferes with opposition activities, the judiciary is subject to political influence, and military and police brutality is a significant problem.
- In September, police arrested several opposition leaders in connection with their participation in a public forum at which participants discussed the controversial 2013 constitution.
- Two opposition lawmakers were suspended from the parliament during the year, bringing the number of suspended opposition lawmakers to three.
- The appointment of former military figures to head the police force and prison system indicated a growing military influence in the criminal justice system.
Fiji’s democratic progress stalled in 2016, as the government interfered with the activities of the political opposition and the military gained influence in the criminal justice system.
In September, five opposition leaders were arrested in connection with their participation in a public discussion on the 2013 constitution; several organizers and other participants were also detained. While they were eventually released without charge, the events indicated the government’s willingness to suppress public scrutiny of Fiji’s controversial legal framework. The 2013 constitution was drawn up by the interim government of J. V. (Frank) Bainimarama (who is the current prime minister) after it had rejected a draft developed by an independent committee. The charter was adopted by decree, and cannot be amended without the support of both 75 percent of lawmakers, and a referendum backed by at least 75 percent of registered voters.
Bainimarama’s Fiji First party won a parliamentary majority in 2014 elections, and since then has frequently pushed through bills and budgets with minimal input from the opposition. In June and September 2016, the parliament suspended two opposition lawmakers, the first for making derogatory comments aimed at the education minister, and the second for allegedly inciting racial antagonism towards the country’s Muslim minority. The suspensions, which drew a rebuke from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, brought the total number of opposition legislators barred from the parliament to three. In May, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, an opposition figure, was removed and replaced with a government ally.
Separately, municipal councils continue to be run by government-appointed administrators. The councils were dissolved in 2009, and subsequent pledges to hold municipal elections have yet to be realized.
Military and police brutality is a significant problem, with several serious incidents reported in 2016. In February, the High Court found five police officers and a soldier guilty of rape and sexual assault in a case involving a man who had died while in police custody in 2014. Military influence within the criminal justice system is growing. A former military officer was appointed the country’s new police commissioner in May. In March, Francis Kean—a former Navy commander who was convicted of manslaughter in 2006, and who is also Prime Minister Bainimarama’s brother-in-law—became the commissioner of the Fiji Corrections Service.
The government eased some restrictive policies in 2016. In October, bans on several foreign journalists were removed. A mission by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in January 2016 facilitated some compromises between the government and the country’s unions, including the reinstatement of the automatic deduction of union dues from employee paychecks, and of employment tribunals to handle grievances.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Fiji, see Freedom in the World 2016.