Fiji: “Draconian Prosecution” of press

FijiBy John Liebhardt

For the second time this month, Fiji’s military government has threatened to send a newspaper editor and its publisher to prison for publishing a letter to the editor alleged to be in contempt of court.

In mid-October, the Fiji Times and Fiji Daily Post printed a letter from a certain Vili Navukitu of Queensland, Australia complaining about a recent high court ruling that legitimized the actions of the country’s president in dissolving the Parliament, and the elected government of Laisenia Qarase, immediately following the December 2006 coup that brought into power Commodore Frank Bainamairama.

The letter (which has been reprinted in this post) pointed out that Bainimarama had undue influence on the jurors because he had previously removed the court’s chief justice.

After the letter was published, Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum accused the Fiji Times of being in contempt according to Fiji’s laws because it casted doubts on the integrity and independence of the courts. The Fiji Times printed a front-page apology admitting contempt and offering to pay all court costs.

The Attorney General, unimpressed with the apology, has asked the court to jail the editor and publisher of the paper and apply stiff fines to the paper. The case is in recess until December.  The editor and publisher of the Fiji Daily Post, where the letter also appeared, could meet the same fate, the Attorney General declared this week. Both newspapers have been asked to provide full details of the letter writer.

The scandal comes at the heels of the announcement that press freedom group Reporters Without Borders ranked Fiji 79th for press freedom out of 173 countries, a large leap from the previous year, where it was 107.

Fiji’s bloggers have largely expressed outrage at the case against the two newspapers.

Source: Global Voices Online

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