New Freedoms Awaken Old Protagonists
It's early days, but so far the restoration of media freedom has only produced comments from well known opponents of the Bainimarama government, and what they have had to say was altogether predictable. Yesterday it was Mike Beddoes; today it's Peter Waqavonovono of the Young Peoples Concerned Network. Peter's published comments prompted a reply from Permanent Secretary of Information Sharon Smith Johns, who in turn was attacked by the anti-Govermment blog Fiji Today which said her reply was “not a good start to open discussion. Sharon Smith Johns needs to start a dialogue not attack” what Peter said. They have a point but Peter's entirely negative comments did not exactly invite a friendly rejoinder and, surely, the important thing is that both comments were published.
Peter said: “There are a few irregularities in the POAD2012 [Public Order Amendment Decree] and possible clauses that can be taken out of context and force the current regime into a Human Rights Disaster … in the wrong hands, this Amendment Decree can be used to term any individual or organisation as a terrorist, hinder free thought, censor our media, and prevent the participation of citizens in Fiji on the Constitutional and Electoral reform processes that are planned.” He said that the amendment still limited “access of information, movement and gathering of persons, and curtail further the freedom to speak” adding that “human rights violations committed under the POAD2012 cannot be judicially questioned, compensated or challenged is a sign for caution.”
“To be clear: If you do not want to engage in racial or religious vilification or create public disorder, then you should not feel threatened by the amendment to the Public Order Act. The amendment is an enabling statute—one that creates a safe place for open discussion and critical thinking across Fijian society for
the formation of a true liberal democratic state.
“This is because throughout Fiji’s history demagoguery and religious, racial and ethnic vilification have been used openly to harass and intimidate, and at times hold Fiji for ransom. Politicians and religious leaders have used race and religion, not just to denigrate others but as a political tool of ascendancy. In
the process, they created public disorder, inhibiting true democracy to flourish.
The Bainimarama Government takes seriously the welfare and opinion of Fijian youth, which underscores all of its activities to strengthen the Fijian economy, create jobs, invest in education and technology, and establish the basis for a new future. “
Peter also said he would have “gone further to suggest remedies to the insecurities of the regime , like investment in peace and human rights awareness and education programs, promotion of civic education, demand anti-violence models and culture within all state run agencies and departments (including the Education system), promotion of Inter-cultural awareness and sharing programs, and the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation type model.”
Ed. Note: It is significant that in Peter's view the problem lies with the “regime”, not with the inherent insecurities, injustices and competition for power in Fiji society that were among the reasons for the 2006 Coup, and which remain problems that Government continues to address.
Much of what he suggests is already happening through workshops, civic education and basic cross-community language skills are now being progressively introduced in schools, and voter education is promised. As for the Truth and Reconciliation, it sounds great except that Qarase sought to use a similar process to absolve the Speight plotters (but with no compensation for his hostages or those who fled in fear from their homesteads) and I suspect Peter's process is more about punishment than either truth or reconciliation.