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Fiji ex-PM detained for violating law against public meetings

Fijian opposition leader Mahendra Chaudry was arrested by military authorities Friday for allegedly holding public meetings in violation of regulations imposed by the military government of Prime Minister Commodore Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama [BBC profile]. Chaudry, a former prime minister who lost power in a coup in 2000, is to be brought before the Rakiraki Magistrates Court [PacLII backgrounder] Monday along with five others [AFP report] who were detained with him. Chaudry, the leader of Fiji's National Farmers Union, is alleged [Fiji Times report] to have held public meetings to assess the impact of drought and government modernization efforts on Fiji's sugar cane industry. The meetings are alleged to have violated the Public Emergency Regulation [text, PDF], promulgated by Bainimarama's government in April 2009 after the suspension of the constitution [JURIST report]. Bainimarama, the leader of a 2006 coup [JURIST report] against the country's civilian government, has faced ongoing criticism by human rights groups for his government's treatment of opposition groups. In April, the Media Industry Development Decree 2010 [text, PDF], which included several provisions that could result in the fining and imprisonment of journalists, was criticized [JURIST report] by international human rights organizations as "clearly focused on the regime retaining control and entrenching its highly oppressive restrictions."

Fiji has been in turmoil since former president Ratu Josefa Iloilo suspended the constitution and revoked the appointment of all judicial officers after an appeals court ruling [JURIST reports] declaring the appointment of the military government following the 2006 coup unconstitutional. Bainimarama took control in the wake of the coup, which ousted then-prime minister Laisenia Qarase [BBC profile]. The Commonwealth of Nations [official website] suspended [JURIST report] Fiji from its organization in September 2009 because it failed to meet the September 1 deadline for reinstating a constitutional democracy and opening a national dialogue. Fiji was also suspended [JURIST report] from the Pacific Islands Forum [official website] in May 2009 after Fiji's current military government failed to meet a May 1 deadline to schedule elections. Bainimarama announced plans [JURIST report] in July to establish a new constitution by September 2013.

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