The Law Society of England and Wales has today asked whether the sentencing of a Fijian non-governmental organisation (NGO) and its director signals the ‘death of free speech’ in the Pacific island state.

Reverend Akuila Yabaki, director of the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum, was given a suspended three month jail term and fined 20,000 Fijian dollars for quoting a Law Society Charity report on the rule of law in Fiji.

The charge of contempt of court was brought after the NGO produced a summary of the Law Society-endorsed report in its newsletter, maintaining that there was no rule of law or freedom of expression in Fiji and that the independence of its judiciary could not be relied upon.

The report was written by Nigel Dodds, chair of the Law Society Charity, following a private research trip to Fiji in November 2011.

Previous legal delegations, including an International Bar Association delegation, had been refused entry to the country.

Nicholas Fluck, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said:

’The sentencing of Reverend Yabaki shows that the oppressive regime in Fiji is prepared to go to any lengths to limit free speech.

‘Is free speech dead in Fiji? The only way it could be restored in a meaningful way would be to reinstate proper respect for the rule of law and a genuinely independent judiciary.’