Fiji: Women and Indigenous Groups Welcome New Government, Press Hopes for more Freedom
South East Asia and Pacific Team
Global Human Rights Defence
On the 24th of December 2022, Fiji’s parliament closely voted to swearing in the country’s new prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka, after 16 years of rule by former-coup leader and PM Frank Bainimarama. The election poses a peaceful end to a tense stalemate that had been gripping Suva, Fiji’s capital, in the last weeks of December. Even the military had been deployed on Suva’s streets to “maintain law and order”, because Rabuka’s opponent Bainimarama cited unsubstantiated reports of violence against ethnic minorities (Al Jazeera, 2022).
Fiji is still considered a fragile democracy. Only within the last 35 years, there have been four military coups, in which both Rabuka and Bainirama have held roles as protagonists (Al Jazeera, 2022). Human Rights Watch reported that since the last coup in 2006, after which Bainimarama installed himself as PM, there had been increasing attacks on government critics, the press and civil freedoms (Monovo, 2023).
This election, in the words of Shamima Ali, a Women’s Rights activist “was touch and go but we are breathing the air of freedom” (Hofschneider, 2023, n.p.). In fact, under the previous government, women and Indigenous rights had been severely restricted. She remembers “young women leaders being rounded up by the Fijian military and taken to the military camp (Hofschneider, 2023, n.p.).
Also Netani Rika, a veteran journalist, told ABC News this Thursday how previous PM Bainarimarama allegedly cursed at him via phone, after which soldiers broke into his home and threw explosives inside (Monovo, 2023). Rika and many others lost their jobs in journalism after the Media Act 2011 which bans foreign ownership of Fijian media organisations (Hofschneider, 2023).
According to RSF Press Freedom Index, Fiji fell from 55th rank to 102nd of 180 between 2021 and 2022 alone (RSF, 2022). Media agencies in Fiji are always in the shadow of the Media Industry Development Decree (turned into a law in 2018) which allows the government to jail journalists if they publish news “contrary to the public or national interest” (RSF, n.p.). These vague terms have repeatedly been misused against government critics, creating a “climate of fear and self-censorship thanks to penalties of up to seven years in prison” (RSF, n.p.).
While Fiji's new Attorney-General Siromi Turaga already stated they are working on changing media laws that will “allow [journalists to] have freedom to broadcast and to impart knowledge and information to members of the public," journalism professor David Robie is sceptical about a “friendly” Media Act (Monovo, 2023, n.p). Media veterans such as Rika and Robie hope the controversial act will be entirely removed by the new government to protect press freedom, to restore the “vigorous media sector that Fiji once had following Fijian independence in the 70s” (Monovo, 2023).
Al Jazeera (2022, December 12). Fiji’s military called in to maintain order after disputed polls. Retrieved February 5, 2023 via
Hofschneider, A. (2023, January 10). Fijian Women And Indigenous Groups Celebrate Election Outcome But Democracy Remains Fragile. Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved February 5, 2023 via https://www.civilbeat.org/2023/01/fijian-women-and-indigenous-groups-celebrate-election-outcome-but-democracy-remains-fragile/.
Monovo, L. (2023, February 2). Fiji's media veterans recount intimidation under former government, hope new leaders will restore press freedom. ABC News. Retrieved February 5, 2023 via https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-02-02/fiji-media-journalists-recount-intimidation-under-bainimarama/101911822.
Reporters without Borders (no date). Fiji. Retrieved February 5, 2023 via https://rsf.org/en/country/fiji