Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns the military government’s arrest and expulsion of Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah, an Australian citizen. Hannah was arrested yesterday and deported today, in defiance of a high court order. The Suva-based Fiji Times is the country’s leading daily.
“Hannah’s arrest and expulsion are unacceptable and violate all the undertakings which the military government has given as regards respect for civil liberties and press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Coming just two months after the expulsion of Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter, it seems that the summary removal of government critics is becoming the norm in Fiji.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “The government must stop its schizophrenic behaviour, consisting of recognising that press freedom is a constitutional right, on the one hand, while continuing to harass journalists, on the other. The prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who is quick to remind the media of their responsibilities, must guarantee their independence and respect for the rule of law.”
The Fiji Times’ publisher, Evan Hannah (right), is escorted by officers in Suva.
Police and immigration officials arrested Hannah at his Suva home yesterday evening in the presence of his wife and one-year-old son. Later in the evening, his newspaper obtained a high court order for him to appear in court today, thereby blocking any possible deportation. As a result of the court order, Air Pacific refused to cooperate with an attempt by the authorities to put him on a flight to Sydney from Nadi international airport. But the authorities subsequently put him on a Korean Air flight to Seoul.
The minister of defence, national security and immigration, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, said there was “credible evidence” that “Mr. Hannah’s actions were breaching national security.” He added: “Mr. Hannah was previously cautioned of the implications of his actions. He, however, chose to ignore this.”
Speaking yesterday, two days before World Press Freedom Day, Prime Minister Bainimarama acknowledged that press freedom was guaranteed under Fiji’s constitution but he said “irresponsible” reporting in the past year had posed “a threat to national security.” Government and media needed to work together for “a better Fiji,” he added.
Hannah is the second foreign journalist to be deported this year. Hunter, the Fiji Sun’s publisher, was deported to Australia on 26 February and is banned from going back.
Reporters Without Borders voices its support for the staff of the Fiji Times, which announced today in a headline: “We won’t shut up.” The newspaper is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s New Corp.
The Fiji Times, May 02, 2008.