Muted response from Fiji over NZ spying reports
Muted response from Fiji over spying claims although civil society is concerned NGO's safety and security may be compromised.
The leader of Fiji's opposition National Federation Party says more clarification is needed from the New Zealand government on its spying in the region.
The reaction is among generally muted responses in Fiji and around the region to last week's reports based on documents provided by the United States whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Sally Round reports.
Like countries around the Pacific the government in Fiji has not rushed to speak out against reports that New Zealand's electronic spy agency, the GCSB, engaged in mass collection of data from countries in the region, passing it on to the United States. Fiji-New Zealand relations have warmed since Fiji's return to parliamentary democracy last year and its Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola told the Fiji Times the allegations should not spoil Fiji-New Zealand ties. The opposition MP Biman Prasad has also taken the diplomatic route calling for more details from New Zealand.
BIMAN PRASAD: More information as to the nature of the surveillance and what impact does it have on the privacy of individuals in Pacific Island countries. I'm sure the New Zealand government itself might provide further clarification to its counterparts in the Pacific and that would be helpful.
A student activist in Fiji Jope Tarai described the news as something of a worst-kept secret in Fiji after the fractious relations between Suva and Wellington of the last few years.
JOPE TARAI: There's not much of a reaction to it at all. When you have various other issues that are battling the people, human rights abuses in West Papua, unemployment rates in Fiji, having to walk into Parliamentary democracy after such a long time, those issues outweigh that much more.
Jope Tarai says Fiji has seen a general erosion of people's privacy and mass data collection has more implications for diplomats and officials but they may not be rushing to complain about it.
JOPE TARAI: Our very own state would appear hypocritical in having to call out Australia and New Zealand in having to do that when they do it to their own citizens. Some of us speak personally from that level, we have our phones tapped and things like that so the matter of privacy is pretty much a foregone aspect in this regard.
The reports describe the New Zealand operation as "full-take collection" including communications from international and non-government organisations in the region. That concerns a prominent Fiji civil society group, the Citizens' Constitutional Forum. Its CEO Akuila Yabaki says if the reports are true this compromises the work that Fiji's non-government organisations do.
AKUILA YABAKI: The way the information is used could potentially have repercussions on CSOs like CCF as we are already working under a challenging political environment for the last number of years. At the end of the day it's about our security and safety at stake here.
The Reverend Yabaki says it is probably time for Fiji to get international protection for its citizens' privacy by ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights.
AKUILA YABAKI: Potentially if Fiji was a party to the ICCPR, Article 41 would apply and Fiji could submit a communication to the Human Rights Committee to investigate a breach of the right to privacy by New Zealand.
But Akuila Yabaki says the spying is understandable given the geopolitical landscape of the last few years and a lack of information about China's aid activities in the Pacific. The Director of the Centre for International and Regional Affairs at the University of Fiji, Richard Herr, says the activities could impact progress on Suva's regional relationships which remain unsettled.
RICHARD HERR: The idea that New Zealand has contributed to the Five Eyes intelligence network without including any feedback back into the Pacific to Fiji or the other states concerned is certainly going to have some sort of repercussion in the way Fiji proceeds with its review of regional relationships this year.
New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key has refused to rule out that it conducts mass data collection but says it does not do mass surveillance.
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