Asylum seekers have staged protests every day this week in the Pacific Island Nation of Nauru. Advocates say that, for some of them, this week marks a thousand days in detention. The government vowed to process all claims by the end of October, but nearly five hundred cases have yet to be heard. And, as we hear from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute, the government also faces protests over new election laws.
First, a caveat...almost all news from Nauru comes second hand at best, often from advocates and lawyers. Independent journalists rarely visit the island because all visa applications must be accompanied by a non-refundable fee of $8,000 dollars. And that's an application, which can still be denied.
Last year, the government of Nauru suspended five opposition members of parliament for participating in a demonstration and for speaking with foreign news media. Now one of them, Mathew Batsiua, a former justice minister, says election laws have been amended. Public servants who want to stand for office must resign three months before Election Day. The public sector is Nauru's biggest employer, and former President Sprent Dabwido, another of the suspended five. He told Radio New Zealand the law was designed to discourage opposition. "If you've got a wife and kids," he said, "How can you go three months without a salary?" Another new law hikes the candidacy fee for anyone who wants to run for office from $74 dollars, to $1500.
Last September, New Zealand cut off aid to Nauru's justice sector citing concerns over the rule of law in the tiny country. Speaking with Radio Australia earlier this month, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said that after what he called brief conversations with his counterparts to find a way forward - quote - " Sadly, that doesn't seem to have been possible."
Elections in Nauru are due by the middle of this year.