FWRM concerned with section 24 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill

FWRM concerned with section 24 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill

By Vijay Narayan and Ilaitia Ravuwai
Thursday 18/05/2017
The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement Executive Director Nalini Singh (Photo: FWRM).

The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement Executive Director Nalini Singh says they are concerned with section 24 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill as she says that it is inconsistent with section 17 of the constitution.

This was highlighted in their submissions to the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights on the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill.

Section 24 of the proposed law says that any person whose words or actions defame, demean or undermine the sanctity of parliament, the Speaker or a committee commits an offence and is liable upon conviction in the case of a natural person, to a fine not exceeding $30,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both.

If a body corporate is found guilty of doing the same, they can be fined up to $100,000 or face prison terms for each director and manager not exceeding five years, or face both penalties.

Section 17 of the constitution clearly states that every person has the right to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication however it does not protect propaganda for war, incitement to violence or insurrection against the constitution, advocacy or hatred that is based on any prohibited ground of discrimination and constitutes incitement to cause harm.

The section further states that a law may limit, or may authorise the limitation of, the rights and freedoms in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public morality, the protection or maintenance of the reputation, privacy, dignity, rights or freedoms of other persons including the right to be free from hate speech, whether directed against individuals or groups.

FWRM’s Nalini Singh says the words defame, demean or undermine in section 24 are not defined in the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill.

She adds by not having these terms clearly defined within the bill suggests potential misuse and a subjective application or interpretation by MPs that take offence to any public utterance.

Singh highlighted that previous submissions show that not only are the terms wide and vague, but it fails to acknowledge that there is an existing Defamation Act.

She says in the interest of the public and in recognition of the substantive efforts that Fiji has made to return to democracy, the FWRM strongly suggests the removal of section 24.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights Ashneel Sudhakar says there is no special protection to Members of Parliament in the section.

Sudhakar has stressed that people can still question and criticise the government and parliamentarians.

The Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, Pacific Dialogue and Methodist Church of Fiji will make their submissions today. 

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