Fiji police crack down on civil rights activists

Wednesday, November 20, 1991 - 11:00

By Satendra Prasad

SUVA — Police have begun another round of repression against civil rights activists campaigning against Fiji's racist 1990 constitution.

Members of the Fiji Youth and Students League (FYSL) and several trade unionists went into hiding as police began searching for the demonstrators who burned a copy of the constitution during a Diwali (the traditional Hindu festival of lights) prayer meeting on November 5.

More than 200 people attended the FYSL prayer vigil in Suva. The meeting heard stinging condemnations of the interim government's silence on the burning and desecrations of six Hindu temples since September.

These desecrations were widely condemned by religious groups and other organisations. The Uniting Church of Australia has also condemned the increasing religious intolerance in Fiji.

The chief priest at a Hindu temple in the western town of Nadi was brutally assaulted recently. His attackers accused him of "worshipping stone idols" and said that "Fiji's constitution bars idol worship". So far police have made no arrests related to any of the attacks.

A FYSL statement had earlier said that "Fiji's racist constitution is responsible for the increasing religious intolerance in the country".

The civil rights activists burnt a copy of the constitution, said spokesperson Kushma Ram, to "express their rejection of the racist constitution and call upon Fiji Indians to reaffirm their commitment on the eve of Diwali to struggle for restoration of democracy and equality".

A similar constitution burning on Diwali Day in 1990 led to the abduction and torture of Dr Anirudh Singh by military officers. Six activists have been charged with sedition for burning the document on that day. Fiji's High Court is still dealing with an appeal by those charged.

The sedition trial has drawn strong criticisms from Amnesty International, the US Congressional Committee on Human Rights, International Commission of Jurists and several other organisations.

The interim government has so far remained silent over the latest constitution burning. The Fiji Labour Party president, Jokapeci Koroi, has called for restraint on the part of civil rights activists and called on them to refrain from such provocative activities.

The president of the mainly Indian National Federation Party, Dr Balwnat Singh Rakka, welcomed the burning and said that "acts such as these should remind those in power that the struggle for democracy is truly alive in the country".

The constitution burning has drawn severe criticism by Fijian extremist groups, which have called on the government to take stern action against the protesters for "having insulted Fiji's High chiefs", who approved the constitution. A spokesperson for one of these groups has called for the deportation of those involved.

A police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, told Green Left Weekly that several military officers have been applying pressure on police to make arrests. Learning from the regime's reaction last year, most of the protesters have gone into hiding since the constitution burning.

Police have meanwhile raided several dormitories at the University of South Pacific campus, looking for those involved. They have also questioned several FYSL members but made no arrests. Some FYSL members have received death threats.

Police have also tightened surveillance of the homes of FYSL members and, in Suva, raided homes in the middle of the night.

From GLW issue 36