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.”

Sharon  replied by saying that the YPCN needed a better understanding of Fiji's recent history and Government's aims. They had “misreads [the POAD] either out of a desire to manipulate public sentiment or simply because of ignorance.” She went on to say that with respect to terrorism and extremism the decree was far “more liberal than other countries” including the United States, and the United Nations has urged all nations “to be proactive in taking steps to “prevent and combat” domestic and international terrorist threats in all their forms.”

“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.


Fiji Fan said…
Come on, Croz! Sharon's response:

"If you do not want to engage in racial or religious vilification or create public disorder then you should not feel threatened..." is a threat in and of itself!
It's entirely up to the REGIME what will be considered as racial or religious vilification or public disorder.

Her response was entirely inappropriate and you, once again, are trying to soften the words of this an unelected government.

Alluding to terrorism is a joke. Fiji has no global prominence so any comparison to laws in the United States is just ridiculous.

I'm all for seeing open and honest dialog but your willingness to try and defend and make light of Sharon Smith John's idiotic and uninformed comments is disappointing. How she is still working in that role is anyone's guess. What an embarrassment to the country.
Anonymous said…
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sara'ssista said…
Yes i agree, whilst there is a claim of greater media freedom, there appears to be veiled threats and this implied or explicit sense from the regime that comment is 'conditional' on good behaviour from those who dare to comment. The fact is government spokespeople appear to take any comment that is not welcome or 'positive', from their point of view, very personally and that of course invites a very personal response.We don't expect a 'friendly rejoinder' from a paid public servant, just a statment with some independently verifiable facts, not spin, warnings or promises. Leave that to the military.
Johnny-Come-Lately said…
Peter W's response was to be expected. He is part of the SDL apparatus -- a Manaso Lasaro, Kaitani, Ted Young, Peceli Rinakama protege - a true, ultra nationalist disguised as a rights campaigner.

It is not rights and freedoms, but the return of the racist and corrupt SDL, with Qarase as PM, which is Peter and his mates' mission.

Peter is nothing but an SDL stooge. He is no different from other SDL hypocrites like Mere Samisoni who supported the Speight coup but are now pretending to be democrats.

The Qarase government embodied ethnic Fijian hegemony. This is what drives the likes of Peter.

With the SDL in power Peter and others like him will get back that sense of control and power over the others.

So-called champions of democracy like Peter want rule over other races, who were being discriminated by Qarase. Back then not a peep was heard from one Peter Waqavonovono.

Peter is a younger version of that racist and hater of Fiji Indians, Mere Samisoni.

Like Mere, he holds the same values as the racist SDL. That's why he is so pained by SDL's demise.

These people are still smarting from the loss of the sense of power and privileges they enjoyed over other Fiji people.

They want the old guard back.

Democracy and freedom are being used a front, because these people never really cared for these ideals before, let alone fight for it.

Other races were treated like dirt by the SDL. The rights and feelings of Indians were trampled
by one SDL policy after another. Indians were compared to weeds.

I ask, 'where the hell was Peter back them?' One Laisa Digitaki set up a democracy shrine after the
Bainimarama coup. Where was she when Speight staged the coup?

Some of these people were actually consorting with the Speight henchmen and plotting to fill the power vacuum when the elected government fell - Laisa and Peter know exactly what I am talking about.

They were not shedding tears for the hostages like they doing for Qarase now, were they Peter?

During SDL rule, Laisa fancied herself as a mover and shaker. She received lucrative government contracts, as reported in the media back then.

Having a husband who headed Fijian Holdings and had connections right to the top helped of course.

So Digitak's distress when Qarase went down was understandable.

As I said, these are all SDL sycophants and phoney democrats who have completely fooled the international community.
Anonymous said…
If FrAnk wants democracy and if he wants to be PM he will need to learn to live with 'opposition'. The sooner he gets used to it the better for everyone.
sara'ssista said…
'bumpy road' is rather understating the very serious issues fijian have had to put up with under this regime, because they have NO choice. Plz feel free when again using the 'wide ranging corruption' that many appear to use as an excuse... to indicate who all of these peope in power, or were in power, who have been charged and gaoled?? How many military are in the mix?? So easy to say , so very hard to name the thousands you suggest....even Croz is adept at the generalisation but short of actaul numbers and names...except to smear and make snide assumptions.. abit tlike the thousands of racist propagandists who travel the country to stir up the natives and wreak havoc.
sara'ssista said…
This would be the same Qarase that was handpicked by the military!! Given they have an appalling record of chosing people that they then go on to condemn or in some cases then promote out of the military, what faith should we have in them ?? Does anyone honestly think the avareage cop/soldier is in step with the thinking of the military hierarchy on their 'race free happy positive fiji' motherhood statements?? Maybe you should sit round the kava bowl with some cops and soldiers and have a real talk about what they actually think.

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