Fiji

Last Updated 1 December 2020

Fiji’s major religion is Christianity, followed by Hinduism, and a small percentage of Muslims and other religious minorities.1https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/fj.html The Christian-Hindu divide is a great cause of religious tensions.

Religious affiliation broadly follows ethnic lines: most indigenous Fijian citizens – the iTaukei, who constitute approximately 57% of the population – are Christian, as are an estimated 60% of the Chinese community. Most Indian Fijians – who account for an estimated 37% of the population – are Hindu, while an estimated 20% are Muslim, and a further 6% are Christian.2https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/fiji/

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

In 2009, Fiji’s Court of Appeals ruled that the coup of 2006 was illegal and the government was therefore illegitimate. The government responded by suspending the Constitution and imposing Public Emergency Regulations (PER) to ban public protests and tighten government control of the media.

After years of coups, and suspension of the Constitution, Fiji adopted a new Constitution in September 2013, which incorporates international human rights standards for freedom of religion or belief, and freedoms of expression, association and assembly.

The 2013 Constitution3https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/fj/fj013en.pdf establishes a secular state that guarantees freedom of religion or belief for all persons.

Article 4 of the Constitution states:

“4.—(1) Religious liberty, as recognised in the Bill of Rights, is a founding principle
of the State.
(2) Religious belief is personal.
(3) Religion and the State are separate, which means—

(a) the State and all persons holding public office must treat all religions
equally;
(b) the State and all persons holding public office must not dictate any religious
belief;
(c) the State and all persons holding public office must not prefer or advance,
by any means, any particular religion, religious denomination, religious
belief, or religious practice over another, or over any non-religious belief;
and
(d) no person shall assert any religious belief as a legal reason to disregard this
Constitution or any other law.”

The Constitution’s Bill of Rights also guarantees the rights to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication (Article 17); the right to freedom of religion, conscience and belief (Article 22); the right to freedom of assembly (Article 18); and the right to freedom of association (Article 19).

Limitations on these rights may be applied to protect the freedoms of others, or in the interest of public safety, order, morality, health or nuisance. Further, the right to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication as articulated in Article 17, may be limited in the interests of “preventing attacks on the dignity of individuals, groups of individuals or respected offices or institutions in a manner likely to promote ill will between ethnic or religious groups or the oppression of, or discrimination against, any person or group of persons” (Article 17(3)(d)).

Religious groups are required to register with the government through trustees who are entitled to hold land or property for the groups. Registered groups may receive tax exemptions on the condition that they operate on a non-profit and non-competitive capacity.4https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/fiji/

Education and children’s rights

Article 22(4) of the Constitution states:

“(4) Every religious community or denomination, and every cultural or social community, has the right to establish, maintain and manage places of education whether or not it receives financial assistance from the State, provided that the educational institution maintains any standard prescribed by law.

(5) In exercising its rights under subsection (4), a religious community or denomination has the right to provide religious instruction as part of any education that it provides, whether or not it receives financial assistance from the State for the provision of that education.

(6) Except with his or her consent or, in the case of a child, the consent of a parent or lawful guardian, a person attending a place of education is not required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend a religious ceremony or observance if the instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion that is not his or her own or if he or she does not hold any religious belief.”

There is no legally required religious education. The Ministry of Education administers and regulates the curriculum. Non-compulsory religious instruction in schools is allowed. Schools may incorporate religious elements, such as class prayer. Theoretically, teachers are not compelled to participate, and students may be excused should their parents request it (it is unclear if children can opt themselves out in accordance with their evolving capacities).5https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/fiji/

The government provides funding and educational assistance to public schools, including schools owned and operated by religious organizations, on a per pupil basis. Religious schools remain open to all students. According to the law, the government ensures free tuition for primary and secondary schools. Religious groups, whether or not they receive financial assistance from the state, must maintain the educational standards prescribed by law.6https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/fiji/

Many of the schools in Fiji are run by religious organizations.7http://www.education.gov.fj/statistics/; https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/fiji/ Almost all of them are public schools, and they run collective worship in line with the religion assumed by the school.

Family, community and society

Ethnic conflict

The conflict in Fiji is drawn largely along ethnic lines that also reflect religious divisions: the indigenous Pacific Islanders who led the coups are mostly Christian, while the descendants of Indians who lost rights under the coups are mostly Hindu. Nevertheless, even during military coups and rule by emergency powers, the authorities generally respected the right to freedom of religion or belief, although there was some vandalism against places of worship, especially Hindu temples. Many Hindus have fled abroad. There also continues to be a deep-seated distrust of Muslims.

In 2019, there were several reports of acts of vandalism of Hindu temples and mosques. In some cases, the investigations resulted in charges of ‘sacrilege’ being brought against the accused, for which the maximum penalty is 14 years in prison, according to Article 305 of the Crimes Act 2009.8https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/SERIAL/86223/97166/F1417546453/FJI86223.pdf; https://fijisun.com.fj/2020/06/11/court-denies-bail-for-man-charged-with-sacrilege/

Further, media reports indicate that an iTaukei man who converted to Islam faced harassment and physical attacks when he tried to build a home and place of worship in March 2019.9https://fijisun.com.fj/2019/03/17/emotions-are-high-over-worship-house-plan/

LGBTI+ rights

LGBTI+ people continue to face discrimination within Fijian society.10https://freedomhouse.org/country/fiji/freedom-world/2020; https://news.trust.org/item/20200512134254-o3tj5/ On 7 April 2019, Fiji’s Prime Minister stated that Fiji would not allow same-sex marriage so long as FijiFirst remained in power, adding that the nation was a “God-fearing country”.11https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2019/04/10/fiji-prime-minister-never-allow-same-sex-marriage/; https://fijisun.com.fj/2019/04/09/fiji-coalition-disturbed-by-pm-no-to-same-sex-marriage-comment/

Women’s rights

According to UN Women:

“Violence against women is widespread in Fiji: 66% of women have experienced physical abuse; 26% have been beaten while pregnant; 48% of married women have been forced into sex by their husbands; and 13% of women have been otherwise raped. Around 30% of female rape victims were between the ages of 11 and 15, with children who had been sent from outer islands to stay with extended families in urban areas identified as particularly vulnerable.

[…]iTaukei (traditional Fijian) women are frequently excluded from formal inheritance rights to customary land, tend to have no rights to land other than those permitted by their fathers or husbands, and do not customarily receive land rents”12https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/countries/fiji/co/fiji

Media reports indicate that the incidence of domestic violence rose during the COVID-19 pandemic.13https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/415881/fiji-records-increase-in-domestic-violence-cases-during-covid-19-lockdowns

According to the Crimes Act 2009, abortion is permissible in the instances of rape or incest. Under section 234 of the Act, anyone who unlawfully performs an abortion faces up to 14 years in prison. A woman who seeks to induce a miscarriage could face up to seven years in prison (section 235). 14https://laws.gov.fj/Acts/DisplayAct/798#

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Media freedom organizations report that the government has at its disposal a raft of draconian measures in order to stifle criticism, such as the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree,15http://ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/SERIAL/86225/97168/F1783936556/FJI86225.pdf which entered into law in 2018 and established a state-controlled Media Industry Development Authority over which the government has direct oversight. Those who violate this law’s vaguely worded provisions face up to two years in prison. In addition charges of sedition have been levied against critical journalists.16https://rsf.org/en/fiji; https://ifex.org/melanesia-new-report-highlights-increasingly-hostile-media-environment/

In 2019, the Pacific Freedom Forum raised concerns for the recent passage into law of the Online Safety Act 201817http://www.parliament.gov.fj/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Bill-7-Online-Safety-.pdf, which imposes penalties of heavy fines and prison terms of up to five years for the vague offence of “causing harm by posting electronic communication”.18https://ifex.org/fijis-online-safety-law-threatens-to-muzzle-free-speech/

Media freedom during COVID-19

In April 2020, Reporters Without Borders raised concerns regarding statements made by the republic’s military forces chief of staff, which favoured curbs on criticism of government policies relating to its handling of the pandemic, referring to government critics as “the enemy within”.19https://rsf.org/en/news/rsf-reminds-fiji-press-freedoms-importance-tackling-covid-19

Freedom of assembly

Article 18 of the Constitution enshrines the right to freedom of assembly, but provides a range of bases upon which to restrict this right, including:

“(a) in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public
morality, public health or the orderly conduct of elections;
(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of others; or
(c) for the purpose of imposing restrictions on the holders of public offices”

Freedom House reports that:

“Respect for assembly rights worsened in 2019. The constitution gives the government wide latitude to prohibit protests, including on the basis of public safety and morality. The opposition National Federation Party was denied a permit for a march in October. Fiji has refused entry into the country for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly since 2014.

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because the authorities repeatedly rejected attempts by an opposition party to obtain permits for demonstrations during the year.20https://freedomhouse.org/country/fiji/freedom-world/2020

References

1 https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/fj.html
2, 4, 5, 6 https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/fiji/
3 https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/fj/fj013en.pdf
7 http://www.education.gov.fj/statistics/; https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/fiji/
8 https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/SERIAL/86223/97166/F1417546453/FJI86223.pdf; https://fijisun.com.fj/2020/06/11/court-denies-bail-for-man-charged-with-sacrilege/
9 https://fijisun.com.fj/2019/03/17/emotions-are-high-over-worship-house-plan/
10 https://freedomhouse.org/country/fiji/freedom-world/2020; https://news.trust.org/item/20200512134254-o3tj5/
11 https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2019/04/10/fiji-prime-minister-never-allow-same-sex-marriage/; https://fijisun.com.fj/2019/04/09/fiji-coalition-disturbed-by-pm-no-to-same-sex-marriage-comment/
12 https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/countries/fiji/co/fiji
13 https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/415881/fiji-records-increase-in-domestic-violence-cases-during-covid-19-lockdowns
14 https://laws.gov.fj/Acts/DisplayAct/798#
15 http://ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/SERIAL/86225/97168/F1783936556/FJI86225.pdf
16 https://rsf.org/en/fiji; https://ifex.org/melanesia-new-report-highlights-increasingly-hostile-media-environment/
17 http://www.parliament.gov.fj/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Bill-7-Online-Safety-.pdf
18 https://ifex.org/fijis-online-safety-law-threatens-to-muzzle-free-speech/
19 https://rsf.org/en/news/rsf-reminds-fiji-press-freedoms-importance-tackling-covid-19
20 https://freedomhouse.org/country/fiji/freedom-world/2020

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