Fiji: End harassment of women human rights defenders

WHRD Coalition

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) calls on Fiji’s military regime to end its harassment of Imrana Jalal and all women human rights defenders. 

The Coalition condemns the politically-motivated charges brought against human rights lawyer, Imrana Jalal, by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) on 1 January 2010. A former Fiji Human Rights Commissioner and founding member of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, who has worked with Coalition members on law reform and human rights issues, Ms Jalal has a long record of public opposition to all unlawful, undemocratic regimes.    

FICAC, headed by a military officer, was established after Fiji’s 2006 military takeover to investigate and prosecute corruption, but instead has also been used to persecute persons not supportive of the military regime.  Ms Jalal was publicly served with seven charges alleging breaches of the Public Health (Hotels, Restaurant and Refreshment Bars) Regulations, the Food Safety Act and the Penal Code. The charges relate to a business operated by Bottomline Investments. Ms. Jalal is a director of this company but has not been involved in its day to day operations. The restaurant charges normally attract a penalty of FJD20.00 (USD10.00) and are Suva City Council offences. A large number of businesses in Fiji’s capital, Suva, operate without a licence whilst their applications are being processed.

Similar charges were previously brought against Ms Jalal’s husband, Ratu Sakiusa Tuisolia. These charges were heard in the Magistrates Court, three days prior to the current charges being laid. The Magistrate, Mary Muir, who heard the matters against Mr Tuisolia questioned the basis for the charges and noted that they fell outside of the jurisdiction of the commission.  In a further erosion of the independence of the judiciary in Fiji, the contract of Magistrate Muir was terminated shortly after the matter was raised.

Despite the administrative nature of the charges, Ms Jalal has now been ordered to surrender her passport.  Similar travel restrictions against Ms Jalal and other women human rights defenders have been part of the continual harassment by the current military regime, headed by Commander Frank Bainimarama. Ms Jalal has been previously threatened with rape and other human rights defenders have been harassed through abusive use of laws and legal process, threats and deportation.

On 5 January 2010, Fiji’s Military Forces Land Force Commander, Brigadier Pita Driti, warned Fiji citizens that they should remember “who is in control.” He went on to threaten any dissenters “...there are only a few people who [we] could term as adversaries, but I would discourage them from doing anything and I would like to tell them to keep low and try to cooperate with us in trying to maintain peace otherwise they will be in for something really hard in terms of how we will treat them this year.”  (Fiji Broadcasting Corporation interview)

The WHRD IC calls on Fiji authorities to:
·    Stop the harassment of Imrana Jalal, her family, and other women human rights defenders
·    Uphold the human rights of all Fiji’s people, including those working in the defence of human rights. 
·    Return to a democratic system based on the rule of law and respect for human rights

14 January 2010