Arrested activist slams Fiji as 'police state'

Arrested activist slams Fiji as 'police state'

A man detained in Fiji for holding a meeting without a permit says the country is being run like a police state.

Six men were arrested and quizzed about the meeting, with police claiming comments made during it could have been illegal.

"It's a big surprise to all of us and we still want to know why we have been arrested and possibly are going to be charged," says Jone Dakuvalu, one of the arrested activists.

He had organised a political meeting, which police officers secretly recorded.

It's claimed something was said that could impact public safety.

Mr Dakuvalu was among five men arrested, most of whom were well-known Opposition MPs.

Fiji's Labour Party leader, Mahendra Chaudry, also came in for questioning.

"It's not a democracy we have here in Fiji," Mr Dakuvalu says. "This is very much a dictatorship and it's becoming a police state."

Under government rules, people can face penalties for "taking part in a meeting or procession in a public place for which no permit has been issued".

It gives police power to disrupt public gatherings and Professor Steven Ratuva from Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies says it undermines free expression and democracy.

"Democracy is not only the formal process of electing a government into power, it's also to do with how people can participate freely."

It's the latest in a series of moves to shut down government opponents.

The arrests follow the two-year suspension of an Opposition MP for calling Fiji's Education Minister a "fool", a decision which has been widely condemned as extreme and unwarranted - a deliberate move to silence critics.

Amnesty International executive director Grant Bayldon says it's outrageous.

"It's a worrying pattern. What we've heard from Fiji in the past is that things will be getting better. We've seen little evidence of that."

The arrested men could yet face charges and Prof Ratuva says if they're convicted, they won't be able to stand for the election.

Fiji's 2014 election had delivered hope for greater transparency and freedom, but the reality appears to be far from that.