Fijian lawyer convicted over pointing out court's spelling mistake

Source: Radio New Zealand

Amnesty International is concerned at the decision by the Suva High Court in Fiji to convict a prominent lawyer for contempt of court.

Suva in Fiji.

Richard Naidu, a long time critic of Fiji's Government, was convicted on Tuesday for a comment he made on Facebook, in which he pointed out a spelling error in a court decision.

The charge arose from a complaint by the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Amnesty International Pacific Researcher, Kate Schuetze, said the decision violates freedom of speech.

"We're extremely concerned about what this court case and what the conviction represents.

"We've already called on the Attorney General to drop the charges against Richard Naidu because the original post on social media that these allegations relate to, I mean, essentially, it's just a violation of freedom of expression.

"And we say that the court should not be above scrutiny, they don't require special protection. And it is really alarming to see the government act in this way to suppress the right to freedom of expression, particularly so close to the election."

Naidu was earmarked to be a top candidate for the National Federation Party in the December 14 election. But the conviction has ruled him out from contesting the election.

Schuetze said the law under which the charges originated is no longer fit for purpose.

Amnesty International Pacific Researcher Kate Schuetze.

"The charges never should have been laid in the first place. They're relying on archaic common law charges. So scandalising, the court which has been repealed in the UK where it originated, purely for the reason that it doesn't meet the international human rights standards on freedom of expression.

"So, there were lots of actions that the government could have taken at various points, you know, they could have decided not to prosecute, the courts could have decided not to convict. But the reality is that, now that they've done this, it sort of really shows that they're prepared to go this far in terms of prosecuting people where they don't like what they say."

She said it sets a dangerous precedent.

"I think it's really alarming, because, obviously, the circumstances of this case highlight the absurdity of the charges.

"Someone pointed out a spelling mistake on social media in a court judgment. And so the response of the court is to impose hefty fines and possibly imprisonment for that; it just seems so wildly disproportionate to what has happened here and what comments were made.

"That's not to say that you have to agree with those comments in order to stand by and protect the right to freedom of expression. So we're saying that we stand by Richard Naidu and his right to make comments that are critical of government, including critical of the judiciary, because that's what the right to freedom of expression is."