Amnesty International is concerned by the decision by Fiji’s Suva High Court to convict a prominent lawyer of contempt of court.
Richard Naidu, a longtime critic of the Fiji government, was convicted on Tuesday for commenting on Facebook alleging a misspelling in a court ruling.
The charges stemmed from a complaint by Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
Amnesty International Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said the decision violated freedom of expression.
“We are extremely concerned about what this trial and conviction represent.
“We have already asked the Attorney General to drop the charges against Richard Naidu because the original social media post to which these allegations relate is essentially just a violation of freedom of speech.
“And we’re saying that the court shouldn’t be above control, they don’t need special protection. And it’s really alarming to see the government acting in this way to suppress freedom of expression, especially so close to the election.”
Naidu was set to become the front runner for the National Federation Party in the December 14 elections. But the conviction barred him from contesting the election.
Schuetze said the law under which the charges were brought is no longer relevant.
“The charges should never have been brought. They are based on archaic common law charges. So scandalous that the court, which was quashed in Britain, where it originated, was overturned solely on the ground that it failed to meet international human rights standards on freedom of expression.
“So there were a lot of actions that the government could have taken in different places, you know, they could have decided not to prosecute, the courts could have decided not to convict. But the reality is that they’ve done it now, which really shows that they’re willing to go that far when it comes to stalking people when they don’t like what they’re saying.”
She said it sets a dangerous precedent.
“I find it really alarming because the circumstances of this case obviously underscore the absurdity of the charges.
“Someone pointed out a spelling mistake in a court ruling on social media. And so the court’s response is to impose hefty fines and possibly imprisonment; it just seems so completely disproportionate to what happened here and the comments that were made.
“It doesn’t mean you have to agree with these comments in order to uphold and protect the right to free speech. So we’re saying that we stand by Richard Naidu and his right to comment critical of the government. including criticism of the judiciary, because that is the right to free speech.”