The Fiji Law Society has raised concerns over the arrest, transfer to Suva and detention of Doctor Jone Hawea, and Society President Wylie Clarke stresses to be clear, “spreading misinformation” is not a crime in Fiji.
Clarke says Police are reported as saying that Doctor Hawea was detained for “spreading misinformation”.
The Law Society urges the Fiji Police to respect the rights and freedoms of persons under the Constitution and to act in accordance with the law.
Clarke says the Society is concerned that the Police appear to believe that they have an unrestricted right to arrest and hold people for forty-eight hours. He says they do not have that right or power.
The Law Society President says no one’s liberty may be interfered with, without a good and legally valid reason.
He says it is of particular concern to the Society that the Police are wrong in their interpretation of section 13(1)(f) of the Fijian Constitution if they believe that that gives them power to detain suspects for that period of time.
Clarke says it is not necessary to detain a suspect for questioning in the middle of the night if the suspect will co-operate with them the following day.
He says if it is clear that a suspect will attend voluntarily to answer questions, the suspect should not be detained at all.
Clarke says the arrest of Doctor Hawea follows the detention and questioning of a number of Opposition figures who had expressed opposition to Bill 17 to amend the ITaukei Land Trust Act last month.
He says Police appear to be taking a position “by default” that a person who disagrees with the Government is a danger to the community and should be detained for questioning.
The Fiji Law Society President says Doctor Hawea, like every other person afforded protection under the Constitution, has the right to freely express his views as long as he does not commit an offence or breach another person’s rights.
He says freedom of expression is a cornerstone of every democracy.
Clarke says we may not agree with Doctor Hawea’s views and statements on COVID-19 and vaccination but all of us, including the Police, must respect his right to express them. He says the Fiji Law Society has previously expressed the strong view that the Police must inspire public confidence by exercising their powers in a way that is fair and neutral and which respects the legal rights of others.
Clarke says public confidence and support is the Police’s most important asset.
The Law Society says a novel virus is wreaking havoc throughout the country.
It says citizens must have all available information about COVID-19, including information provided by Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the opinions of others.
Clarke says if the Government believes Doctor Hawea is wrong, it must join in debate with him and put information before the people.
He says if Doctor Hawea is arrested for simply expressing his views, then people will lose trust in the Government and the hard work of its doctors and other professionals through the crisis.
The Law Society President also says in a democratic, law-abiding society the authorities must lead the way in showing respect for the rights of others.
He says people cannot be arrested and detained just because of their opinions.
Police are yet to respond to the Fiji Law Society's statement.
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