Commodore Frank Bainimarama
Interim Prime Minister
Suva - Fiji Islands
Paris, 18 May 2009
Dear Prime Minister,
Reporters Without Borders would like to refer you to the decline in press freedom since you promulgated the Public Emergency Regulations 2009 on 10 April, initially for a period of 30 days. These regulations have officialised prior censorship. Criticism of your government has disappeared from the Fijian media. Political, social and economic news is still being covered but journalists are not able to play their role as Fourth Estate. Fear has taken hold within the news media following a number of arrests of journalists and threatening statements by officials.
The Public Emergency Regulations 2009 give the permanent secretary for information, Lt. Col. Neumi Leweni, full powers to prevent the media from publishing or broadcasting reports that could “give rise to disorder” or “promote disaffection or public alarm.” He has warned on several occasions that those who fail to respect the rules will be arrested and prosecuted. The media have been told to limit themselves to providing “positive” news.
As a result of the regulations, which have been extended until 10 June, soldiers and information ministry officials have installed themselves in newsrooms in order to control content and prevent undesirable reports. Around 10 journalists and bloggers have been arrested and several foreign journalists have been expelled.
The journalists who have been detained include Shelvin Chand and Dionisia Turaganbeci, who were arrested on 9 and 11 May for writing an article for the FijiLive news website that was “negative” about you, and Theresa Ralogaivau, who was arrested on 14 May because of an article in the Fiji Times.
Joseph Ealedona, the head of the Suva-based regional news agency Pacnews, announced on 14 May that it would be temporarily relocated because of the political situation in Fiji.
Journalists based in Suva have told Reporters Without Borders about the fear reigning in newsrooms. Some journalists even refuse to talk as they are scared by the possibility that someone could be monitoring what they say.
Your government seems to be considering taking direct control of certain programmes on Fiji TV and using the Fiji Sun newspaper to publish official information. This would be a veiled and arbitrary form of nationalisation that jeopardises years of editorial independence for these privately-owned news media.
As you know, the international community has adopted sanctions in response to the promulgation and strict implementation of these regulations. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has tried to give Fijians an explanation. He sent all the Fijian news media an editorial on 13 May about the reasons for your military-backed government’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum. None of the media in Fiji carried the editorial, presumably because of censorship.
Your recent decisions suggest that you only tolerate the news media when they do not question your management of the country’s affairs and your government’s legitimacy. Fiji is heading dangerously towards a system of permanent prior censorship.
These policies prevent the international community, including the European Union, from resuming close cooperation with your country. The repressive regulations that you have introduced are punishing the Fijian people and jeopardising the development aid that Fiji’s economy and society need. You have a duty to stop exposing your country to this danger.
We ask you to lose no time in repealing the Public Emergency Regulations, especially articles 16 (1) and 16 (2), which violate the international human rights accords that Fiji has signed. We also urge you, as Prime Minister, to order the security forces to withdraw from newsrooms and to stop arresting journalists.
We trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.
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