‘Obstructed’ ranking for Fiji; Raj hits out at Civicus

Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Ashwin Raj. Picture: FILE

Fiji Human Rights and Anti Discrimination Commission (FHRADC) director Ashwin Raj, hit out at Civicus, a global civil society alliance for comments it made against the commission.

He said Civicus did not engage with the FHRADC nor did it bother to “consider our position on the issue”.

“Instead they have quoted the views of civil society approvingly in their report. That remains their prerogative,” he said.

In its 2021 report on Fiji, Civicus said the “obstructed” rating meant civic space was heavily contested by power holders, who imposed a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights.

“Although civil society organisations exist, state authorities undermine them, including through the use of illegal surveillance, bureaucratic harassment and demeaning public statements,” Civicus said in the report.

“There is some space for non-state media and editorial independence, but journalists face the risk of physical attack and criminal defamation charges, which encourage self-censorship.”

The Civicus report said media restrictions and vilification of activists intensified a climate of fear in Fiji.

“In recent months, the press freedom ranking for Fiji dropped drastically while the press was heavily restricted during the visit to the region of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

“Further, there is a lack of effective systems for ensuring safety and protection of human rights defenders and a lack of remedies and redress for defenders who face increased risk.

“Human rights defenders also expressed concern about a lack of public statements and show of solidarity by authorities and by the Fiji Human Rights Commission in support of human rights defenders.

“Further, two human rights defenders came under attack from the Prime Minister for proposing a caretaker government.”

Civicus is a global civil society alliance that constitutes an influential network of organisations at the local, national, regional and international levels.

Its headquarters is in South Africa with sub-regional offices in New York and Geneva.

• Questions emailed to Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on the contents of the Civicus report remain unanswered when this edition went to press.

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