Democracy and rights
The military coup in 2006 put democratic principles and the right to human rights out of play. Political interference in legal processes occurred, as did restrictions in association law and freedom of expression. Since a new constitution was adopted in 2013 and democratic elections were held the following year, legal security and respect for human rights have been strengthened.
However, a number of democratic shortcomings still remain. For example, freedom of assembly and assembly is still limited and prosecution for upstart is becoming more common according to Amnesty International. Freedom house describes Fiji as a partly free country.
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Political parties can in principle be formed freely and two multi-parties have been held since democracy was reestablished in 2014. But of 17 parties that existed before the 2006 coup, only two were approved for the 2014 elections. The reason was that new rules from 2013 required that a party must have at least 50,000 paying members and undertake to follow certain general rules of conduct in order to take part in elections. The other 15 parties were declared dissolved and their financial assets seized by the state.
In addition to the responsibility for the country’s defense and security, the military, according to the constitution, must also guarantee its “well-being”. It has been interpreted as an opportunity for the army to intervene in political decisions that the generals do not like.
Abbreviated as FJI by Abbreviationfinder, Fiji is not included in Transparency International’s index of corruption in the countries of the world. However, corruption exists, and the new constitution established a commission to work against corruption.
Freedom of expression and media
Fiji has traditionally had a lively press that has been considerably freer than elsewhere in Oceania. From the 1987 coups until democracy was restored in 2014, however, media freedom was periodically repressed. Since then, the situation has improved, even if deficiencies persist.
The media climate worsened considerably after 2006, when then-army chief Frank Bainimarama (prime minister since 2007) took power in a coup. In April 2009, the situation worsened when freedom of the press was abolished at the same time as the constitution. Censorship was introduced and the media was ordered to cooperate and publish only “positive” news. Soldiers and other security personnel were stationed outside news editions, several foreign journalists were expelled and Fijian journalists were arrested and interrogated.
In April 2010, the government further tightened control over the media through a decree that gave the authorities the right to decide what was in the public interest or not. A special authority was given the right to penetrate editorials and request material for review. Media companies were threatened with heavy fines and journalists in prison for violating the censorship laws. All printed text must bear the author’s name, which, among other things, made it impossible to send anonymous submissions from the public.
Finally, a ban on more than 10 percent of foreign ownership in media companies was introduced. The restriction was specifically aimed at the Fiji Times magazine, which at that time was owned by the Australian-American media mogul Rupert Murdoch and had become the regime’s hate object. In September 2010, the government banned all authorities from advertising in the Fiji Times. Faced with the threat that the magazine would otherwise be closed, the Murdoch Group sold the same month Fiji Times to a Suva-based media group.
Only with the 2013 constitution did freedom of press and opinion strengthen, and direct interventions against the mass media gradually diminished. The 2018 parliamentary elections were illuminated in the media in an impartial manner and from several different angles. Over the past decade, Fiji has climbed 100 positions in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, from 152 in 2009 to 52 in 2019 and 2020 (see the full list here).
Yet deficiencies remain. The 2010 decree was transformed by Parliament into a permanent law in 2018. Thus, editors and other media workers are still at risk of being fined or imprisoned for publishing material that the authorities do not accept. Foreign ownership is still limited by law and at least in some media there is at least some self-censorship.
Judicial system and legal security
According to the Constitution, the judiciary must be independent of Parliament and the government. The judges in the higher courts are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of Justice and a Law Commission. At the lower level, judges and other legal personnel are appointed by the Legal Commission.
Despite the return to democracy in 2014, many deficiencies remain in the justice system, and legal security is low. According to a 2016 report by Amnesty International, a “culture of torture” has taken root within the country’s security forces. The soldiers who carry out torture, abuse, rape and sexual violence against, for example, suspected criminals and prisoners are often free from punishment. In the report, Amnesty gives five examples of people who have died from injuries they received through abuse or torture after being detained.
The Constitution guarantees impunity to all the military who participated in the coup in 2006 and this immunity cannot be called into question by a court or revoked by a constitutional change. Nor can any financial compensation be paid to persons who have suffered damage as a result of the coup.
Fiji does not impose the death penalty.