Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Justice denied in Vanuatu publisher assault: PFF

PFF, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS- A minimal fine given to a Vanuatu cabinet minister who entered a guilty plea for his part in the bashing of Daily Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones represents a clear victory for bush justice over the rule of law, says regional media monitoring group the  Pacific Freedom Forum.

Government minister Harry Iauko was fined the local equivalent of 150USD late last week after he entered guilty pleas to aiding and abetting the March 4 assault on Neil-Jones at the Daily Post premises. Under Vanuatu law, the applicable sentence for an assault where no permanent damage is caused to the victim is a fine or prison term of no less than 12 months. Seven other men sentenced along with Iauko received fines of up to 1,000 USD for their roles in the group attack.

"PFF joins those in Vanuatu and globally who condemn the clear message from this sentence -- that it's OK for high level leaders of Vanuatu  to lead  mobs into newsrooms and bash up people whose job is to keep the public informed -- and that justice can be turned on its head to keep the powerful in power."

"After months of uncertainty and concerns over an interference with due process, the Vanuatu justice system has delivered a verdict which shows that Neil Jones and media colleagues had every right to be worried that justice would not be served," says Miller, "and we are very concerned over comments by the Deputy Prime Minister Ham Lini to a New Zealand journalist noting he felt media had 'exaggerated' the case which wasn't serious as no-one had died. Does a journalist have to die before media freedom and the conduct of leaders is taken seriously?"

"It's especially disturbing that prosecutors dropped charges of  unlawful assembly, unlawful entry and criminal trespass against the minister simply because he entered a  not guilty plea. Others in his group plead guilty to the same charges, so surely this provided clear  grounds for the prosecution case to be heard?"

"Again, we raise the issue of equality before the law. If the reverse had happened and Minister Iauko had been assaulted by the Daily Post publisher, it is certain that Neil-Jones would not be dealt a 150USD  fine and have other charges for which his accomplices had already entered guilty pleas, withdrawn for no compelling reason."

Miller says the matter should not rest. "Vanuatu's Prime Minister should know that this issue has cost him and his cabinet a huge amount of credibility. This isn't just about a Vanuatu citizen being denied justice by his own nation's legal system. This sentence tells Vanuatu's people and all of us that a rule of law which exists for all people, can bow down to the rule of thuggery. It's not an attractive look for any government and we urge the leadership and relevant leadership tribunal  bodies in Vanuatu to follow through on this case as PFF intends to bring this matter before the Office of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner."--ENDS

Radio NZI coverage--http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=61586

CONTACT: PFF Acting Chair Monica Miller | KHJ Radio | American Samoa Mob 684 258-4197 | Office 684 633-7793 | Email: monica@khjradio.com 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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