Reporters Without Borders has condemned the arrest and moves to deport the editor-in-chief of the Fiji Daily Post, Australian national Robert Wolfgramm. Members of the military turned up at the office where he has worked for the past ten months, and arrested him on 14 December. His passport was confiscated. The Fiji Daily Post, which suspended publication after the coup earlier this month, was scheduled to continue appearing normally. Elsewhere the family of Fiji Daily Post reporter Jyoti Pratibha were threatened on 13 December by soldiers who appeared to be searching for the daily’s general manager, Mesake Koroi.
The Army threatens its critics
Evidence of abuse of freedom of expression is mounting in Fiji after the coup there. Several people have been summoned, questioned or arrested by the military for having criticised the new regime. Businessman and former journalist, Imraz Iqbal, was questioned by soldiers after writing an article in the magazine Fiji Living. At least two people who write regularly to the letters editor of the Fiji Times have also received threats. The trade unionist Kenneth Zinck was arrested by soldiers on 6 December for having publicly criticised Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Soldiers forced him to run late at night at a sports field in Nabua, in the Suva suburbs before giving him a long lecture.
Media given guarantees by military
Although the new prime minister, Dr. Jona Senilagakali, has publicly played down the need for a return to democracy, the news media have been assured they will not be subject to prior censorship. The Fiji Times resumed publishing yesterday while national television resumed broadcasting its news programme last night.
Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the leader of the military coup, yesterday said: “We have withdrawn our soldiers from the media. We did not totally censor the press. But we wanted to prevent people from exploiting the situation to incite people to disturb the peace that is currently prevailing.”
This significant development in the military’s policy towards the media followed a meeting yesterday between the Media Council, newspaper publishers and the military high command.
Soldiers today searched the premises of the telecommunications company Pacifix Connew in Suva. The reasons for the raid were not known.
Press freedom falls victim to military coup
Reporters Without Borders condemned the undisguised hostility of Fiji’s armed forces to press freedom and the privately-owned media after they staged a coup today. At least two newspapers have stopped publishing, the state-owned broadcast media have suspended their news programmes and foreign journalists have been prevented from covering some events.
“This military overthrow of an elected government immediately revealed its true nature - a repressive return to the past,” the organisation said. “It is regrettable that the international community failed to head off this attack on democracy and press freedom, as everyone could see it coming. The United Nations, the European Union and countries in the region must move quickly to obtain the restoration of freedoms, including that of the media.”
Reporters Without Borders intended to ask the Europe Union to suspend a cooperation accord signed with Fiji in 2000 as part of the ACP-EU framework.
The military had been threatening to topple the elected government for weeks, accusing it of corruption and ruining the country. Declaring himself the new head of state, Commodore Frank Bainimarama announced in a televised address at 6 p.m. today (local time) that the military had taken over the government and suspended some of the articles of the constitution.
The Fiji Media Council had condemned the coup plans yesterday, calling them a violation of the constitution and a “shame for the country.”
Fiji’s public television announced the suspension of its news programmes a few hours after Bainimarama’s takeover. The station said, “Fiji Television’s news service will not resume until it can be independent and free of censorship.” The two privately-owned radio networks, Radio Fiji and Communications Fiji, also received visits from the military, which imposed prior censorship on them. Soldiers are reportedly still posted outside their offices.
The main daily newspaper, the Fiji Times, suspended publication today after being threatened by the military with censorship. An article on its website (www.fijitimes.com) said armed soldiers came to the newspaper and asked it not to publish any “hostile propaganda” about the new military government. Managing director Tony Yianni tried to defend the newspaper’s right to editorial independence but then decided to stop publishing for the time being because of the military’s hostility. The Flash d’Océanie news agency quoted editor Samisoni Kakaivalu as saying: “This is not journalism any more, this is propaganda.”
The Fiji Daily Post suspended publication yesterday after being warned by the military not to continue supporting Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. Journalists abandoned the newspaper’s offices in the capital, Suva, and the managing editor went into hiding. Bainimarama’s open criticism of the newspaper were followed by threatening phone calls. The newspaper was reportedly warned last month that it would be the first to fall in the event of a military coup.
The Fiji Daily Post supports Qarase’s party, the SDL, and has always maintained that Qarase is constitutionally elected and has a popular mandate.
Soldiers meanwhile today prevented foreign journalists in Suva from approaching the home of the deposed prime minister, who has been placed under house arrest.