Pacific News Minute: Lawyer: Section Laws Used to Suppress Dissent in Fiji

Jan 9, 2018

The Government House, Suva, Fiji.
Credit Qiliho / Wikipedia

In Fiji, an opposition member of parliament has been questioned by police on allegations of sedition. Critics accuse the government of using the charge to suppress dissent. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

Many former British colonies inherited laws against sedition – an act or incitement designed to overthrow the state.

Sedition remains the books in Canada, India and the United States. It’s used rarely, but the late Omar Abdel-Rahman and his co-defendants were convicted of seditious conspiracy for the first attack on the World Trade Center. Sedition laws were repealed in both Australia and New Zealand within the last decade.

Last year, dozens in Fiji were convicted of sedition for attempts to set up breakaway Christian states. Then the government charged The Fiji Times and several staff members in connection with an anti-muslim column that prosecutors claim was an incitement to violence. The trial has been postponed to June.

Last week, Radio New Zealand Pacific reported that police pulled in an opposition member of parliament for questions about seditious remarks he apparently made in parliament. No charges were filed, but MP Parmod Chand said he was told that investigations continue.

Fiji’s Director of Public Prosecutions responded, “No person or organization would be prosecuted merely for voicing political dissent,” he said, “or engaging in robust political debate or for expressing legitimate criticism of the government.”

Some wondered what he meant by “legitimate” criticism; attorney Aman Ravindrah-Singh, who represented some of those convicted in the 2017 trials, said that sedition is now being used to harass people and suppress dissent.