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Another deportation marks regime of fear in Fiji: Pacific Freedom Forum
For immediate release: 27 January, 2009
Pago Pago, American Samoa: -- The deportation this week of Fiji Times publisher Rex Gardner ignores due process and is clearly aimed at sending a message of fear and intimidation to the people of Fiji. That's the view of the Pacific Freedom Forum, a regional group of Pacific journalists advocating the right of Pacific nations to be served by a free and open media.
According to media reports, Gardner was issued his deportation order yesterday and was to have left Fiji for Australia this morning.
He was charged late 2008 alongside Fiji Times Editor Netani Rika for contempt of court after the newspaper printed a Letter to the Editor which was critical of the court judgement legitimising the 2006 military coup. Both pled guilty to the contempt charge and were sentenced late last week.
Gardner had been discharged by the sentencing judge; with one legal opinion yesterday stating his work permit status should not have been affected.
"The Fiji Times accepted they were in contempt of court, and were planning to appeal the penalty imposed. Even if the military regime wanted to revoke Gardner's work permit, this would have involved a process which obviously has been ignored here," says PFF Chair Susuve Laumaea, of Papua New Guinea.
"It's my hope that the current Pacific Forum Leaders meeting on the Fiji situation in my home country is able to deliver a strong message of concern to the current regime, over the campaign of intimidation and fear being carried out against anyone with a dissenting view; with the media and NGO activists being the scapegoats."
"This is not in line with the commitments to good governance and a Pacific vision for all, and it certainly isn't in keeping with mature leadership able to handle criticism, or even take its own credibility seriously," he says.
Gardner is the third publisher – all of them Australian, deported from Fiji in the last 12 months. His predecessor Evan Hannah was deported some eight months ago, and a few months before that, the Fiji Sun editor Russell Hunter was also deported.
PFF co-chair Monica Miller of American Samoa says the current scenario sends observers the signal that the regime is "confused and reactionary" in its dealings with the news media.
"Gardner was discharged on condition that he not break any laws for one year. Now, the government seems to have broken their own regulations and deported him," she says.
"This is clearly a case of the government flexing its muscles on the remaining staff, letter writers, and readers of Fiji Times and chipping away at what's left of media freedom in a country which used to be a bastion of free and independent reporting and free expression in the Pacific."
She says the intimidation of the media must also be taken as an intimidation of Fiji's citizens who would now be made to feel that they do not have the total freedom to table their opinions and views within the public realm.
"The deportation of Rex Gardner is tragic evidence that personal freedom for the people of Fiji is under threat, and that's something our Forum Leaders must take very seriously," she says.ENDS
PFF interim Chair
Susuve Laumaea Sunday Chronicle Newspaper Papua New Guinea
Mobile: 675-684 5168 Office: 675-321-7040 Email: email@example.com
PFF interim co-Chair
Monica Miller KHJ Radio American Samoa
Mob 684 258-4197 Office 684 633-7793 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Pacific Freedom Forum are a regional and global online network of Pacific media colleagues, with the specific intent of raising awareness and advocacy of the right of Pacific people to enjoy freedom of expression and be served by a free and independent media.
We believe in the critical and basic link between these freedoms, and the vision of democratic and participatory governance pledged by our leaders in their endorsement of the Pacific Plan and other commitments to good governance.
In support of the above, our key focus is monitoring threats to media freedom and bringing issues of concern to the attention of the wider regional and international community.
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