30 Dec 2012

Police burned copies of Fiji draft constitution - author

9:32 pm on 30 December 2012

A human rights watchdog in Fiji is calling for an investigation into why the police seized and destroyed copies of the country's draft constitution.

The document's author Yash Ghai said the police confiscated all 600 copies from the printing shop a day after he presented the draft to Fiji's president.

Professor Yash Ghai, a Kenyan academic, is chairman of the country's Constitution Commission.

He told Radio Australia he tried to intervene after police arrived at the printers a week ago to confiscate all 600 copies of the draft.

Professor Ghai said the officer in charge told him the printing was illegal.

Officers poured kerosene on shredded proofs of the document and set the papers alight, he said, and took away every remaining copy.

Professor Ghai said he got police to sign for the confiscated documents but he does not know where they were taken.

The professor left Fiji on Monday and Radio New Zealand International understands the commission wanted to ensure his safe departure from the country before publishing the draft on its website.

The draft is due to be debated next month by an assembly of regime appointees.

Doubt over restoration of democracy

Fiji's NGO Coalition on Human Rights said the police actions have raised serious questions about the military regime's intentions.

The group's chairperson Shamima Ali said trust that had been built up by the constitutional process is now deteriorating.

She said the authorities need to front up and say who it was that commanded the destruction of the documents.

Professor Brij Lal, a Fiji-born Australian academic, said the confiscation and destruction of the documents casts doubt on whether the military government is serious about restoring full democracy.

Professor Lal said the military probably felt threatened by a recommendation in the draft that it should be under civilian control through the elected parliament.

He said the documents' confiscation suggests the military regime has no intention of fully relinquishing power.