UPDATE: Fiji: WLUML Statement on stay of all charges against human rights lawyer Imrana Jalal
This is an update to the January 2010 WLUML Statement on charges against Imrana Jalal: Women Living Under Muslim Laws warmly welcomes the July 30th decision by Justice Priyantha Fernando of the Fiji High Court to stay the remaining charge against Fijian human rights lawyer and longtime WLUML networker Imrana Jalal. Along with the rest of the international human rights movement, WLUML will now be closely watching the treatment of Justice Priyantha Fernando to make sure that he is not subject to adverse consequences of any kind for his appropriate ruling in this case. We note that according to the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, “it is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary.”
Initially, seven charges were brought against Imrana Jalal by the recently created Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) on January 1, 2010. These charges concerned the license for a restaurant she owned with her husband, but in whose day-to-day operations she was not involved. Our research indicates that many Suva businesses operate pending the grant of a license. We were unable to discover a single case in which a business owner had been similarly prosecuted in the High Court, by FICAC or the Director of Public Prosecutions who is charged with the responsibility of prosecuting only serious crimes, for such a minor regulatory infraction. WLUML believes these charges to have been politically motivated. A single related charge in this case remains outstanding against Ms. Jalal’s husband, Sakiusa Tuisolia. Given that this charge stems from the same underlying facts as the other counts which have now been stayed, WLUML hopes that this charge will also be stayed at the earliest possible time.
Though the unfounded prosecution of Imrana Jalal is thankfully over now, she has incurred thousands of dollars in legal fees, has had to endure travel restrictions for months and has even been made to sit in the dock like a defendant facing serious criminal charges. This has caused undue stress for her and her family, and limited her ability to engage in human rights work – which may have been the intent of the prosecution. It has also had a chilling effect on the rest of the human rights community, many of whose members now fear they will face similar prosecutions.
WLUML remains concerned about the sedition law, under which women human rights defenders could face a steep penalty for criticizing the regime, locally and abroad. The new media law requires them to register with the government, and face heavy fines for statements deemed to be in violation of the law. We are also alarmed by the possibility of future prosecutions similar to Ms. Jalal’s in which regulatory offences or ordinary criminal charges are abusively brought to harass human rights defenders.
Thus, we remain deeply concerned about the tense situation for all women human rights defenders in Fiji and will be intently scrutinizing their treatment, along with our partners in the international women’s human rights movement. WLUML urges governments, international organizations and other human rights NGOs to also continue to monitor the situation in Fiji closely and to support human rights defenders whenever necessary.
31 July 2010