Bainimarama disappointed by international criticism over arrests

UN HEADQUARTERS, NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES - 2016/04/20: Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama speaks to the press.  Fiji's Permanent Mission to the United Nations held a press conference at UN HQ titled "Implementation of the Paris Agreement - Consequences for the Humanitarian Summit and the 2030 Development Agenda," at which Fiji's Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Fiji's UN Ambassador Ken Thomson and the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang discussed Fiji's motivation for being the first nation to deposit its instrument of ratification of Global Climate Agreement once it is open for signing (April 22). (Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is standing by the police decision to arrest his political opponents, and says criticism from the international community is "disappointing".

Six men, including leaders of two opposition parties and a prominent trade unionist, were questioned by police about a meeting they held last week. Police claim the meeting did not have a permit, and comments made during the meeting could be deemed a risk to public safety.

But the chairman of Pacific Dialogue, Jone Dakuvalu, who organised the panel discussion, said the purpose of the event was to discuss the country's 2013 constitution. Around 40 people attended the event at a church in Suva.

Mr Dakuvalu said both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General were invited. However, both declined the invitation.

Bainimarama disappointed by international criticism over arrests

Pacific Dialogue chairman Jone Dakuvalu (Newshub.)

When he was taken to the police station on Saturday, Mr Dakuvalu says officers played him an audio recording of the meeting and asked him to identify who was speaking. Mr Dakuvalu told Newshub the recording was of such poor quality he couldn't make out who was talking.

Mr Dakuvalu was kept overnight in a police cell before being released.

He says he's held numerous meetings in the past, and had never encountered problems.

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

Amnesty International has slammed the men's detention as "outrageous" and "worrying".

But Mr Bainimarama says such criticism is unwarranted.

"It is disappointing that elements of the international community, without any objectivity, have issued statements of concern about the detention and questioning of Fijians who have allegedly contravened our laws."

Bainimarama disappointed by international criticism over arrests

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama (file)

Fiji has long been criticised for the introduction of a number of hard-line decrees, including the Public Order Act, which gives police to power to disrupt gatherings and forces those wanting to meet or hold an event to have a special permit from police.

"The Public Order Act, amongst other provisions, requires any group wanting to hold a public meeting to apply for a permit from the police before the proposed event," Mr Bainimarama said in a statement.

"In this case, no application was made so the police are entirely within their rights to question those who have allegedly contravened these provisions."

It was expected that since the elections in 2014, such decrees would no longer be necessary. Mr Bainimarama says a number of laws, including the Public Order Act, are currently being reviewed. But he says until that's complete, the rules remain the same.

Raman Singh, a lawyer for one of the arrested men, says the Public Order Act is "draconian" and such legislation should be scrapped immediately.

"This kind of legislation does not have a place in any kind of democratic society," he told Newshub.

Bainimarama disappointed by international criticism over arrests

Fiji lawyer Raman Singh (Newshub.)

On the arrests, Mr Singh said it appears opponents of the Government were deliberately singled out.

"It is surprising. There are a lot of meetings held all the time. I assume that the opposition has been targeted."  

The director of public prosecutions is investigating the case and the arrested men could yet face charges.