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Fiji: Police Shut down Fiji Women's Rights Movement birthday retreat
Police closed down the Fiji’s Women’s Rights Movement’s (FWRM) retreat and planning at the Pearl resort in Pacific harbor this morning. At around 9.30am, a police officer, known as Tomu, from the Central Investigation Department asked the hotel event coordinator whether FWRM had a permit. The information was relayed to the FWRM Executive Director, Virisila Buadromo, who informed him that the event was an internal FWRM planning.
25 representatives of the FWRM staff, management board and partners were spending three days reflecting on their achievements over 25years and planning for the proposed constitutional development and 2014 general elections.
Despite assurances from Buadromo that the gathering was part of FWRM’s annual internal FWRM planning and that they did not need a permit, the police insisted that she return with him to the Pacific Harbor station so that her statement could be taken. He reiterated that they had contravened provisions of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER). When Buadromo agreed to accompany him with a lawyer, he insisted that a lawyer’s presence would not be needed. Buadromo insisted that this was what she was going to do and that it was within her rights as a citizen.
At the police station, Buadromo accompanied by FWRM lawyer, Roshika Deo, were told to wait while “he consulted his superiors.” During that time, Buadromo called several women human rights defenders to inform them of what was happening as well as a human rights lawyer. She was advised by the lawyer to request that her statement be given in Suva in his presence. However this request was a denied by the police. After a half an hour of phone calls between the police officer and someone at the Suva CID headquarters, Buadromo and Deo, were informed that charges would not be pressed, the meeting had to be dispersed and that this should be viewed as a “warning.” Whilst waiting at the station, a police officer said to Deo “it’s because you are an activist that is why they have brought you in …..to check!”
Buadromo and Deo returned to the Pearl resort with the police officer who came to confirm that the planning was shut down. In the last 10 minutes (11.30am Fiji Time), the police have returned stating that a senior intelligence officer from CID HQ was on his way to ask further questions. When inquired whether this was an official investigation, he was hesitant to confirm or deny the status of investigation.
A point to note is that the Pacific Disability Forum was also having a strategic planning at the same venue at the same time. Their event was not questioned, investigated and interfered with by the police.
The advocate calls on the international human rights community and women human rights defenders to bear witness to the persecution and harassment of Fiji human rights defenders, particularly women human rights defenders. The advocate calls on the international community to call on the State to stop their harassment on human rights defenders and to remove the draconian measures they have put in place to restrict and limit freedom of expression and association. These measures by the State is creating an environment of fear and intimidation for human rights defenders and it infringes on human rights defenders legitimate right to work and participate in civil and political life.