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Continuation of hearings against human rights trainer form part of ongoing clampdown on free speech, says PFF

(PFF/IFEX) - The court appearance of a leading Pacific human rights lawyer and trainer, scheduled for 28 January 2010, continues the clampdown against free speech advocates in Fiji, says the Pacific Freedom Forum.

Human rights trainer Imrana Jalal is due to reappear in court in a case brought against her by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC). Jalal has told Australian and New Zealand media that the court proceedings are a "trumped up" attempt to silence her and other regime critics. She has spoken out in support of human rights and democracy in Fiji since the current regime staged its coup at the end of 2006.

The initial hearing in early January, relating to similar charges against her husband Sakiusa Tuisolia, was adjourned after the magistrate involved questioned why FICAC wanted to pursue the issue of a minor city council infringement. The magistrate, Mary Muir, was sacked two days later. No explanation has been given as to why she and two other magistrates were removed from their positions.

"Every Pacific nation with a news outlet boasts a journalist who has heard of, interviewed or been trained in media, governance and human rights by Imrana Jalal," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea. "Her dedication and hard work has inspired and informed many of the founding members of the Pacific Freedom Forum and indeed, our regional umbrella, the Pacific Islands News Association, PINA."

Jalal, a regional public servant who travels the Pacific and worldwide as the Human Rights Adviser for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, had her passport seized on 11 January. A global outcry from Amnesty International and other human rights defender networks has called on the Fiji authorities to stop the harassment of Jalal and other human rights defenders in Fiji.

PFF co-chair Monica Miller, of American Samoa, says it is "ironic that a Pacific light for freedom of expression and the rule of law is now proving to all of us through her own life what happens when these universal human rights go out the window. We honour her courage, her determination to denounce her oppressors in public, and her refusal to be silenced; and will continue to condemn the campaign of harassment, intimidation and fear being waged by a regime against citizens whose work is so important to an entire region, not just to Fiji."

The Pacific Freedom Forum calls on the regime to:
- return the focus of FICAC to corruption in public office and prosecutions that are within its mandate
- stop the harassment of human rights defenders in Fiji and return to freedom of expression, movement and assembly for all
- revoke the media decree, remove military censors and give control of news content back to editors.

"Fiji lawyer Imrana Jalal says prosecution meant to shut her up"
"Fiji: Downward spiral continues for human rights following persecution of prominent human rights lawyer"

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