9 Jan 2012

Fiji Methodists describe difficulties under amended Public Order Act

5:23 pm on 9 January 2012

The deputy general secretary of Fiji's Methodist Church says the amended Public Order Act that has just come into force will add to the church's workload.

The Public Emergency Regulations imposed in 2009, which granted the police and military extensive powers, were lifted on Saturday with the expectation that permits for meetings would no longer be required.

The interim attorney-general was adamant that churches could again meet on their premises without needing authorisation any longer.

Reverend Tevita Nawadra Banivanua says that's something the church had welcomed but he has learned from a meeting with police that permits are still necessary.

He says many of the smaller of the church's 2'000 congregations wanting to hold their monthly meeting will struggle to comply.

"Because for us in the villages when they are to give copies of their agendas and to write all these forms they have to fill, they don't have things like photocopiers."

Reverend Tevita Nawadra Banivanua says he understands non-compliance will result in a fine.

There has been further reaction to the lifting of the emergency regulations, with the European Union's ambassador to Fiji welcoming the move.

Dr Abdoul Aziz Mbaye says it marks progress towards the re-establishment of democracy in Fiji.

With a new constitution that is inclusive of all layers of society in Fiji, we support this idea.

Dr Abdoul Aziz Mbaye says it appears the amended Public Order Act replicates many of the conditions of the Public Emergency Regulations, something the EU will assess and have a position on very soon.

In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has welcomed the lifting of the Emergency Regulations as a step in the right direction towards the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights in the country.

She says the emergency law seriously restricted the right to public assembly and freedom of expression, and gave the authorities broad powers of arrest and detention.

The High Commissioner has also noted the announcement that amendments have been made to the Public Order Act and says she hopes these amendments will be in line with international human rights norms and not in any way replicate the restrictions in the Public Emergency Regulations.

She expressed concern at recent developments in which critics of the Government have faced criminal charges, arbitrary detention or other forms of intimidation.

She says silencing criticism with such heavy-handed measures is in breach of international human rights standards.