Last edited: April 16, 2005

Gay Tourist Freed on Bail UK, April 12, 2005

By Ben Townley

Two men who were sentenced to two years imprisonment for having consensual sex with each other in Fiji have been released on bail, after they argued their conviction went against the country’s own constitution.

The claims have since been supported by international human rights body Human Rights Watch (HRW), which is calling on the Fijian government to quash the convictions of Dhirendra Nandan, 23, and Australian tourist Thomas Maxwell McCoskar.

The Lautoka High Court in Fiji granted bail to the pair yesterday, after the case gained worldwide coverage and disdain from civil rights workers.

They were convicted by magistrate Syed Muhktar Shah last week, who claimed their acts would cause “any decent person to vomit”. He said the pair should be punished for bringing “shame” to the island, and dismissed pleas for leniency.

However, the appeal court ruled that while homosexuality is illegal in the country, its constitution outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Both men now say the magistrate who gave the sentence was prejudiced against them because they were gay.

HRW says the case not only violates the Fijian constitution, but also displays its reliance on colonial-era legislation. It says Fiji was one of the first countries in the world to implement constitutional protection for lesbian and gay people when it introduced new laws in 1997.

“Fiji should respect its own constitutional ban on discrimination against gays and lesbians,” said Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Project.

“These harsh sentences are a reminder that Fiji must repeal its colonial-era sodomy laws, which threaten individuals’ dignity, equality and privacy.”

It is thought that the anti-gay laws are a product of British colonial rule in the Victorian era.

“These archaic laws enforce inequality and must be struck from the books. And the two latest victims of the law must be immediately freed,” Long says.

The call comes as gay rights protestors in Australia continue to push for the government to intervene and free McCoskar.

So far, the government has resisted involvement, although a representative was due to meet the tourist in prison late last week.

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