Fiji’s opposition MPs who were arrested after their criticism of a government land bill say they will not be intimidated or silenced.
Police have since released several leaders of the opposition who were arrested late Sunday.
One of those arrested, the National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad, said he was wanted in relation to his party’s criticism of government moves to amend the iTaukei Land Trust Act in Parliament in recent days.
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After two hours of questioning, he was later released, telling RNZ Pacific that it felt like an attack on Fiji’s democracy.
“We don’t blame the police. This is coming from the government. They are using police to oppress the opposition’s political leaders, and that’s not the way democracy works.”
Prasad said the government failed to consult the public properly over the bill, and there are now calls to withdraw it because it is seen as abusing the rights of indigenous landowners.
“We are elected members of Parliament. Our job is to continue to speak and we are not going to be intimidated by such tactics by the government to silence the opposition who have an important contribution to make in the process of any lawmaking in the country.”
Accused of ‘malicious act’
Another leading opposition MP, Lynda Tabuya, was also taken into custody and accused of a “malicious act” by police for her social media posts about the Land Bill.
She said she was accused of a malicious act by police for criticising the government’s moves to push through an indigenous Land Bill.
Critics claim that an amendment removes a protection provided via the iTaukei Land Trust Board which was set up to protect indigenous landowners’ rights.
Tabuya had given a blunt message to Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama via social media:
“We are sick and tired of all the bullying and fear mongering. We are sick and tired of all the death and destruction allowed on your watch because of your recklessness,” she said.
“We are sick and tired because you don’t give a damn. You don’t give a damn about iTaukei, you don’t give a damn about human rights.”
The Fiji government and police have been approached for comment, but there has been no response for an interview.
However, over the weekend – before the arrests were made – Bainimarama did speak out for the first time condemning his opposition leaders on Facebook.
“These are a bunch of urban elite who are nothing but stirrers. Only a few control the show, and they become the gatekeepers of what is right and what is wrong.”
Bainimarama defended the government’s planned amendment to land legislation.
“Even this amendment makes ultimately iTaukei land a lot more attractive. It removes bureaucracy without undermining any of the protections. We should not be concerned about a piddly thing such as this when we should all be happy about it.”
Meanwhile, Acting Police Commissioner, Rusiate Tudravu said his officers were not questioning the politicians for the purpose of intimidation, but as a pro-active means to find out the truth.
He was reported in local media as saying not everyone who was brought in for questioning would be charged.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.