Gay rights activists in Fiji accused police of homophobia on Thursday after the first ever planned pride march through the Pacific nation’s capital was cancelled at the last minute.
Roshika Deo, a trustee of rights group Oceania Pride said the group received a permit last month to hold the march on Thursday evening but police told them on the morning of the event that it had been cancelled.
“They said we cannot march today because they did not realise they had given a permit for gays to march,” Deo said.
The event was planned to mark International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, following the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Fiji in 2010.
Deo said police told her that the official who vetted the permit application had not realised what the words homophobia and transphobia referred to.
She added organisers had expected about 60 people at the march in the deeply-religious country, where all public gatherings must receive approval from the ruling military regime which seized power in a 2006 coup.
According to rights activists, discrimination against gays remains widespread.
“You pick up the newspaper and you read a lot of letters where there’s a lot of homophobia and transphobia,” said Deo.
“So today, the day when we’re making a stand against homophobia and transphobia, to have the state being homophobic is actually quite disappointing.”
Oceania Pride founder Jasmine, who did not want to give her surname, said it was a “sad day for human rights” in Fiji and questioned the government’s commitment to increasing freedoms ahead of elections scheduled for 2014.
“This is a violation and denial of human rights,” she said.
“One of the key components of democracy or any democratisation process is the protection of freedom of expression and opinion.”
Fiji police said the march was stopped because of concerns about the safety of participants.
“Recent media attention towards the group’s decision to hold a march today has influenced my decision to cancel the permit,” commissioner Ioane Naivalurua said in a statement.
“At the end of the day, the safety of all Fijians is the main priority for the police force.”
He said the Fiji police is a non-discriminatory organisation.