Thursday 15 August 2013 by Michael Cross
A human rights activist in Fiji has been sentenced to a suspended prison term for reprinting part of a Law Society Charity report which criticised the Pacific nation's judiciary.
Reverend Akuila Yabaki, head of the Citizens' Constitutional Forum (CCF), was sentenced to three months in jail, suspended for 12 months, for an article published in a newsletter.
Earlier this year, Fijian High Court Judge William Calanchini found the forum and Yabaki guilty of 'scandalising the court'. Justice Calanchini has now passed sentence, fining Yabaki F$20,000 (£6,700) and awarding costs awarded against him.
Yabaki was ordered to provide an apology to the court, for publication, for the court's approval within 28 days.
The original article quoted the Law Society Charity's 2011 report, Fiji: The Rule of Law Lost, which questioned the independence of the judiciary in Fiji, which has been ruled by an 'interim' prime minister since a coup in 2006.
Nigel Dodds, Law Society Charity chair and author of the report, said the sentence is being used to silence Yabaki in the lead-up to Fiji's elections. 'The sentence is really quite clever. It's what I would call "light touch" oppression,' he said.
'By sentencing him to a relatively short but suspended sentence of imprisonment, which is going to last for a year, it's effectively silencing him and CCF until the elections.'
Nicholas Fluck (pictured), president of the Law Society of England and Wales said the sentencing of Yabaki shows that the oppressive regime in Fiji is prepared to go to any lengths to limit free speech.
He was joined in his criticism by the New Zealand Law Society. 'The New Zealand Law Society sees the moves by the Fijian government to pursue this matter as evidence of a continued erosion of the rule of law in one of our closest neighbours,' the convenor of the society's Rule of Law Committee, Austin Forbes QC, said, in a statement.