NGO Coalition: Enable space for free speech and political dissent
It is crucial for government to enable a conducive environment for political debates in the build up towards the 2018 General elections.
The NGO Coalition on Human Rights is deeply concerned with the Proposed Fiji Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2016 (Bill No.28 of 2016). In particular, Clause 24 of the Bill severely restricts criticism of the parliament and is a direct violation of the Constitutional Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression.
All political parties are again preparing for the 2018 General Elections on the basis of the 2013 Constitution. It is therefore important for the government to enable a democratic space for members of the public to make contributions to political debates - either for government or criticising government, (Ministers, Members of Parliament and government employees in the performances of their roles) without the fear of being harassed or intimidated through legislations. Any attempts by the government to enact legislations to regulate or limit freedom of speech or publications critical of government’s performance during political campaigns, or at any other times, will weaken human rights protection in Fiji and is deemed unconstitutional.
Freedom of speech, expression and publications are fundamental principles of democratic governance and is guaranteed in the 2013 Constitution. However, every Fijian is hereby reminded that the 2013 Constitution does not protect those who exercise their rights of free speech or expression or publications for war propaganda, incite violence, advocate hatred or incite to cause harm to individuals.
The NGOCHR believes that criticising government’s service delivery and performance does not necessarily threaten national security, public safety, public order or public morality. This however enables people’s right to hold government accountable for its performance and would assist the citizens of Fiji to make informed decisions about their choice of Government.
NGOCHR is also concerned with how the government seemed to give higher prominence to subsidiary legislations to take primacy over the Constitution where they may conflict, for example, the 2014 Electoral Act and the Media Industry Decrees and its various amendments. The NGOCHR is again calling on Government to uphold the Supremacy of the 2013 Constitution as guaranteed under Section 2 which must be respected by all Fijians including persons holding public offices.
The Coalition reiterates the need to encourage and protect political commentary and free speech, including dissenting opinions, as a key aspect to ensuring a vibrant democracy.