WACC Requests Fiji Drop Speech Case Against Methodist Clergyman

(Photo Credit: World Association for Christian Communication)Rev. Akuila Yabaki, CEO of Citizen's Constitutional Forum, World Association of Christian Communication Director and President of WACC's Pacific Region, is seen in a file photo.

The World Association for Christian Communication has asked Fiji to drop charges against a Methodist clergyman, who is also one of the organization's leaders, saying the government has infringed on his right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Rev. Akuila Yabaki is facing judicial proceedings, having been accused of contempt of court by the government after publication of an article in April of this in a newsletter of the Citizens' Constitutional Forum (CCF). Rev. Yabaki is also the CEO of CCF, WACC Director and President of WACC's Pacific Region.

The CCF is a non-governmental organization based in Fiji which educates and advocates on issues related to the nation's constitution, democracy, human rights and multiculturalism.

Rev. Yabaki is accused of "scurrilous attacks on the judiciary thereby posing the real risk of undermining the authority of the judiciary in Fiji," the WACC said in a letter written by its General Secretary Rev. Dr. Karin Achtelstetter. She wrote the letter at the request of the group's Executive Committee.

The Committee said it affirmed a proposed document entitled "People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress," which calls for the country "to become a more progressive and truly democratic nation."

"[The Committee] believes that the action brought against Rev. Yabaki contravenes the spirit of the Charter and stands in the way of the people of Fiji's desire to move towards greater unity and democracy," the letter concludes.

The WACC noted in a released statement that Rev. Yabaki was a strong critic of some policies and decisions of the government of 2000 to 2006, including the earlier release from prison of persons convicted on charges related to the Fiji coup of 2000, and opposed legislation to establish a Commission empowered to propose amnesty for such persons.

In July of this year, CCF issued a statement criticizing restrictions on freedom of expression at t at time when constitutional reform was being widely discussed, the WACC said.

"The deliberations of the Constituent Assembly must be open not only to public scrutiny but also to comment and debate and this must be allowed even after the President's assent and subsequently the Bainimarama Government must take immediate steps to ensure that there is debate in all sectors of the community throughout the entire constitution making process to allow the legislators to hear the views of all Fijians and, hopefully, respond to these opinions by assuaging fears, removing doubts and amending policies," wrote Yabaki.

In the letter, Rev. Achtelstetter defends Rev. Yabaki.

"Alarmed by the case brought against Rev. Akuila Yabaki, who is known to respect the rule of law and to uphold the human rights and constitutional rights of the people of Fiji, the Executive Committee respectfully requests that the case be dropped lest it damage the public image and reputation of the country," she writes.

The WACC has members in 140 countries worldwide.

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