Our Prime Minister hit a new low yesterday morning when he justified the Fijian government’s detention of three opposition party leaders, the trade union head, a leading academic and an NGO spokesperson. Their crime was to attend a small roundtable discussion on the Fiji Constitution.
When RNZ’s Morning Report asked him about the arrests John Key claimed they were “legally authorized” . He went on to say that “there was a law on the books that allowed them to do what they did.” At no point in the interview did Key condemn the arrests.
So where did this “legality” come from? In 2012, when Fiji was still a military dictatorship, Commodore Bainimarama issued a Public Order Amendment Decree requiring people to get a government permit for any political meeting. Opposition meetings could be deemed threats to “public order”.
Later in 2012, as the country was moving towards elections, the decree ceased to apply to indoor public meetings, which is why the latest arrests were a surprise.
Surely, as leader of a democratic country, John Key has a duty to defend free speech and assembly, which are guaranteed in our Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead he accepts as “legal” a Fijian decree which restricts those very same rights.
In some ways the PM is being true to form. While visiting Saudi Arabia last year John Key saw that country’s beheadings (50 had just taken place) as a “philosophical difference”. He said that Saudi Arabia “set their own laws and people live by those laws…. if they don’t like that the best they can do is leave.”
Key’s posture is that human rights don’t really matter, or at least are secondary to maintaining warm relations with repressive governments.
Why else would he express so little regard to the arrest in Fiji of Labour leader Mahendra Choudhry, National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad, Sodelpa Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka, CTU leader Attar Singh, academic Tupeni Baba and Pacific Dialogue spokesperson Joni Dakuvla?
John Key has invited Fiji’s PM to make an official visit to New Zealand. The least Key should do is to say that the visit is no longer appropriate.