Fiji: Grave threats and false charges against human rights lawyer
STATEMENT by P. Imrana Jalal, Human Rights Lawyer, on fabricated FICAC charges. Suva, Fiji Islands, 8 January 2010: On 1 January 2010 I was served by Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) officers with seven charges alleging breaches of the law. I categorically deny these charges and will mount a robust defence against them. I am a human rights lawyer with a long record of public opposition to all unlawful, undemocratic regimes and my stance against Fiji’s 2006 military takeover is public knowledge. FICAC was established to investigate and prosecute corruption but instead has been used to also persecute persons not supportive of the military regime. The charges levelled against me at this time constitute part of this second strand of activities. FICAC has initiated various actions against myself and my husband in order to harass and intimidate us. I will continue vigorously to resist and challenge these efforts and to uphold the principles of democracy and the rule of law for all Fijians.
I am a member of several international rule of law and human rights organisations including as: a Commissioner on the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Geneva; a Board Member of the International Council of Human Rights Policy (ICHRP), Geneva; a member of the Asia Pacific Forum for Women Law and Development (APWLD), Thailand ; a member of the international network, Women Living Under Muslim Law (WLUML), Pakistan and France; a Board Member of Greenpeace Australia-Pacific (GPAP), Sydney, Australia; and am a Co-Founder and Board Member of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Fiji. I have a close association with Amnesty International and was also a Fiji Human Rights Commissioner.
On 1 January 2010 while breakfasting with my family at a hotel in Denarau, Nadi, Fiji, I was served by two officers from the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) with seven charges alleging breaches of the Public Health (Hotels, Restaurant and Refreshment Bars) Regulations, the Food Safety Act and the Penal Code. The charges relate to a business operated by a company , Bottomline Investments. I am a director of this company but have not been involved in its day to day operations. The restaurant charges normally attract a penalty of FJD20.00 (USD10.00) and are Suva City Council offences. A large number of businesses in Suva operate without a licence, whilst their applications for licences are being processed. The allegations are categorically denied and the charges will be strenuously defended.
These charges are part of a continuing strategy by the current military regime to target, persecute and silence critics, including myself. I am a human rights lawyer with a long record of public opposition to all unlawful (military and non-military) undemocratic regimes, including that of Sitiveni Rabuka, George Speight and now, Voreqe Bainimarama. Since the coup d’etat in December 2006 I have regularly called the current military regime to account for the violations of human rights in Fiji. In December 2006, after my published opposition to the military takeover, I was threatened with rape, in graphic detail, via an anonymous call to my mobile. I was warned to shut my mouth or “they” would shut it for me. That call was traced to a phone booth just outside the gates of the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, home of the Fiji Military Forces. Twenty minutes prior to the call, Colonel (now Brigadier) Mohammed Aziz had asked Major Davina Chan to call my office to get my mobile number. I made a police complaint about that threat of rape and included this information. The Police Statement is a matter of public record.
FICAC, as with most significant government bodies, is headed by a military officer. FICAC was established to investigate and prosecute corruption but instead has been used to also persecute persons not supportive of the military regime. The basic import of the charges against me is that the business was run without a licence – not a corruption matter – nor one which FICAC is legally permitted to prosecute. Such prosecutions are normally commenced by the Central Board of Health or the Suva City Council. The maximum fine prescribed is FJD20 (approx USD20). The Penal Code charges allege a failure to obey a lawful order. No lawful (nor indeed unlawful) order has been issued against myself or the business. FICAC’s remit seems to be flexible and growing, despite its limited, defined legal powers.
The method of service chosen by FICAC appears to have been a deliberate attempt to humiliate and embarrass me in a public place with my family. I live and work in Suva, where the offices of FICAC are located, and where service would be a simple matter. At the time of service we were on holiday with friends and staying in their private villa, part of a hotel complex 200 km away. We were not registered at the hotel thus making it surprising that FICAC was aware of my whereabouts.
Fiji’s Military Forces Land Force Commander Brigadier Pita Driti, was reported in the media on 5 January 2010 warning Fiji citizens that they should remember “who is in control.” He went on to threaten any dissenters “...there are only a few people who [we] could term as adversaries - but I would discourage them from doing anything and I would like to tell them to keep low and try to cooperate with us in trying to maintain peace otherwise they will be in for something really hard in terms of how we will treat them this year.”
This current targeting of me by the regime follows legal action taken against my husband. He has had numerous charges presented and later withdrawn by FICAC. Similar charges relating to running a business without a licence were served on my husband prior to me, again in a manner designed to maximise humiliation and harm. When my husband’s charges were raised in the Magistrates Court on 29 December 2009, Magistrate Mary Muir queried the basis on which FICAC was prosecuting minor local authority misdemeanours. She suggested that it was outside FICAC’s jurisdiction and a matter for the Suva City Council. There was an altercation between the FICAC prosecuting lawyer and the magistrate. It has been reported in the media on 5 January 2010 that shortly after this matter was first raised in court , the magistrate had her contract terminated. This is not an isolated incident. Other magistrates have had their contracts terminated after making decisions contrary to the submissions of FICAC.
It appears that the strategy of FICAC in the various actions taken against myself and my husband is not to go to trial, but to keep the matters pending in order to harass, intimidate, persecute and to wear us down. My professional training and ethics prohibit me not only from acting against the law but to stand against the undermining of the rule of law by others. I shall defend the charges raised against me and will continue to seek a better, more just Fiji for all.
FIJI – JUDICIARY: RNZI PACNEWS 1: Thurs 07 Jan 2010
Fiji Law Society notes fresh purge of judiciary
07 JANUARY 2010 SUVA (RNZI) --- The Fiji Law Society president, Dorsami Naidu, says the Fijian administration is further purging the justice sector of people who don’t toe the line.
Three magistrates and several public prosecutors have been sacked this week without the public being given an explanation.
The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) has broadened its operations, charging a member of the International Commission of Jurists, Imrana Jalal, and her husband with operating a restaurant without a licence.
Ms Jalal denies the charges.
Mr Naidu said anti-corruption organisations usually deal with corruption matters involving public bodies.
“FICAC should not have become involved. This is dealt with by the municipal council and if a person does not pay their business licence fee and if they have operated, the municipal council can take them to court and claim that money. I can’t call it corruption.”
Mr Naidu said he doesn’t understand why FICAC has become involved, but adds the Commission seem to single out people who are critical of the regime.
He said the administration seems tough on those opposing its agenda.
“It’s in regards to the views the magistrates have on certain charges being laid by FICAC, which are not within their powers and the magistrates have told them so. That’s one reason and certain other views they have on certain cases brought by FICAC. They are probably not toeing the line.”
Mr Naidu said little is known about the sackings of the prosecutors….PNS (ENDS)
Ficac mum about Jalal case
Posted at 03:33 on 05 January, 2010 UTC
Fiji’s Independent Commission Against Corruption has declined to confirm or deny reports that it laid charges against a prominent human rights lawyer.
Imrana Jalal has reportedly been charged on seven counts on New Year’s Day, including operating a takeaway restaurant without a licence, failing to display a licence, and disobedience to an order to disclose the licence.
The restaurant is believed to have been sold last August.
Her husband, Ratu Sakiusa Tuisola, has already been taken to court over the same issues.
The presiding magistrate, Mary Muir, had criticised the Commission during his court hearing, describing the case as a Suva City Council matter.
Ms Muir has since been sacked.
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