Meet the D.C. PR Firm Shilling For Fiji's Military Coup Government
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In a May 2012 report, the U.S. State Department commented on the Fijian government’s treatment of trade unions, observing that the country’s Essential National Industries Decree “severely restricts trade union and collective bargaining rights for workers in designated industries and corporations deemed essential to the national economy.”
According to the State Department, “The military continued to act with impunity in detaining, and in many cases abusing, persons deemed critics of the government, including journalists, politicians, trade unionists, and Methodist Church officials, ostensibly claiming authority under the [Public Emergency Regulations] to do so.”
In other instances, the Twitter accounts portray Bainimarama’s coup government as reform-minded guardians of Fijian democracy and in complete support of the Constitutional Commission tasked with drafting Fiji’s constitution in advance of elections scheduled for September, 2014. But news reports indicate that Bainimarama has been less supportive than the Twitter accounts suggest.
In August, Fiji’s constitutional reform process hit a snag when international news agencies reported that Bainimarama had accused Constitutional Commission chairman Yash Ghai of undermining the commission by meeting privately with local NGOs and opposition politicians.
Bainimarama blasted Ghai, suggesting that the commission should only take input from parties willing to speak at public hearings and that private meetings with opposition groups might politicize the Commission. On August 16, the AFP published a storyheadlined, “Fiji leader tells constitution boss to stay out of politics,” detailing Bainimarama’s displeasure with Ghai’s statements advocating for greater political freedoms in Fiji. Bainimarama reportedly accused Ghai of falling under the influence of opposition politicians and trade unions.
On August 31, women’s rights groups in Fiji reported that earlier in the month they were prevented from publishing a newspaper advertisement critical of the independence of the constitution-making process. The ad challenged the non-negotiable constitutional principles issued by Bainimarama’s government, the government’s insistence on immunity provisions for coup perpetrators, and the “continuing restrictive atmosphere in which the independent news media must operate.”
The groups claimed that Fiji’s two daily newspapers refused to publish the advertisement after the groups refused to soften language critical of the government. Shamima Ali, a Fijian political activist and member of the Fiji Human Rights Commission and Coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre told Radio New Zealand International that plainclothes police were in attendance while people presented submissions to the Constitutional Commission.
But Fiji’s Qorvis-linked Twitter accounts paint a different picture. Over the month of August, @FijiPM, @FijiRepublic, and @FigiAG played an active role in promoting news articles, often published by the government owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, portraying the government as supportive of the constitutional process.
A sample of @FijiPM tweets in August included:
- August 12: “Women urged to present submissions to the #Constitutional #Commission: http://ow.ly/cZMrr #participate #vote @UN_Women @Women_Win @UNDP”
- August 14: “PM #Bainimarama encourages #thoughtful #productive #constitutional #participation for the betterment of #Fiji: http://ow.ly/cYaNu @hrw”
- August 15: Focus on one person, one #vote, one #value as you #engage in the #constitutional process! @fijiembassydc @ UNDP@CAPAction #GuidingPrinciples
- August 22: “Let’s be clear: NO restrictions on submissions made to #Constitutional Commission: http://ow.ly/d0Wac @fijiembassydc @democracynow”
- August 22: “#Constitutional #commission will hear public submissions as independent entity; promote #transparency, #accountability: http://ow.ly/cIE5c “
The @FijiPM account also touted the inclusiveness of the Constitution Review Commission and its superiority to previous, failed, attempts at constitutional reforms, tweeting, “Previous #constitutional #consultations did not include all people: http://ow.ly/d6laa #empowerment @un @statedept @fijiembassy.”
The tweets, like many of those issued by accounts linked to Qorvis, frequently target their messages to Twitter accounts affiliated with the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, both institutions which have been critical of Fiji’s military coup government.