Public support grows for Akuila Yabaki’s right to communicate
Fijian human rights activist and Methodist clergyman the Rev. Akuila Yabaki is facing judicial proceedings in his struggle for greater freedom of opinion and expression in his home country.
Currently the Executive Director of the pro-democracy organisation Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF), Mr Yabaki is a member of the Board of Directors of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) and President of WACC’s Pacific Region.
Mr Yabaki is facing legal proceedings having been accused of contempt of court by the Government of Fiji. It followed the publication of an article titled “Fiji: The Rule of Law Lost — An Analysis of the Law Society Charity Report 2012”, which appeared in the April 2012 edition of Tutaka, the quarterly newsletter of the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum. Mr Yabaki is accused of “scurrilous attacks on the judiciary thereby posing the real risk of undermining the authority of the judiciary in Fiji.”
Mr Yabaki was a strong critic of some policies and decisions of the Qarase government of 2000 to 2006, including the early release from prison of persons convicted on charges related to the Fiji coup of 2000, and opposed controversial legislation seeking to establish a Commission empowered to propose amnesty for such persons.
In July this year, Citizens Constitutional Forum issued a media release criticising restrictions on freedom of expression at a time when constitutional reform was being widely discussed.
“The deliberations of the Constituent Assembly must be open not only to public scrutiny but also to comment and debate and this must be allowed even after the President’s assent and subsequently the Bainimarama Government must take immediate steps to ensure that there is debate in all sectors of the community throughout the entire constitution making process to allow the legislators to hear the views of all Fijians and, hopefully, respond to these opinions by assuaging fears, removing doubts and amending policies,” wrote Mr Yabaki.
The Fiji Government’s decision to charge a prominent NGO and its head with contempt of court has been slammed by the New Zealand Law Society. Its president, Jonathan Temm, told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat he doesn’t believe any crime has been committed.
“They simply reproduced in their material quotes from a Law Society of England and Wales charity report. So what they were actually doing was saying this is what the Legal Society of England and Wales charity said. And it’s on that basis the contempt charges (are) being advanced,” Mr Temm said.
In this context, and in keeping with its mandate to promote communication rights for all, WACC’s Executive Committee has addressed an open letter to His Excellency Brigadier-General Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, President of Fiji, and to the Government of Fiji.
“Alarmed by the case brought against Mr Yabaki, who is known to respect the rule of law and to uphold the human rights and constitutional rights of the people of Fiji, the Executive Committee respectfully requests that the case be dropped lest it damage the public image and reputation of the country,” says the letter.
Speaking on behalf of WACC’s members in more than 140 countries worldwide, the Executive Committee affirms the sentiments contained in the “People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress” which calls for Fiji to become a more progressive and truly democratic nation.