1 Apr 2020

Fiji NGO says armed soldiers on streets not necessary

7:04 am on 1 April 2020

The Coalition for Human Rights in Fiji says it is concerned at reports of armed soldiers on the streets enforcing the government's Covid-19 measures.

The military is working alongside the police during lockdown and curfew restrictions.

Coalition Director Nalini Singh said the display of armed soldiers to maintain social distancing is unnecessary.

"This is not the time for the military to be displaying arms. And having arms in public places at this time is a show of heavy-handedness and really unnecessary. This just fuels public fear and intimidation."

Nalini Singh said while the coalition understands the importance of protecting citizens, responses must also protect the rights of the people.

She said there were laws in place to address any breaches of restrictions and ensure public order was maintained.

She said images of soldiers with guns outside the National Provident Fund office in Lautoka were uncalled for.

Military commander Viliame Naupoto apologised if the show of force had "created unnecessary panic."

In a statement, he said the army was called in to assist police control a situation where more than 200 people had crowded the NPF office.

Mr Naupoto urged the public not to be afraid as the soldiers were there to provide security.

He said soldiers who were assisting police operations would not be armed.

Ms Singh welcomed Mr Naupoto's assurance.

She urged the government and law enforcement authorities to cease intimidation tactics as the first response to such situations.

"There must be a more comprehensive response that is inclusive and collaborative with stakeholders and partners which align to human rights and the principles of democracy."