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Fiji's Daily Post - Why Malifa's A Freedom Fighter

Fiji's Daily Post editorial 11/4/00: WHY MALIFA'S A FREEDOM FIGHTER

SUVA: The honour bestowed upon Savea Sano Malifa by the International Press Institute [one of 50 World Press Freedom Heroes] is cause for both celebration and sadness.

There is happiness because it rewards a person who is perhaps the most courageous and dedicated of the region's press freedom warriors. In their untiring crusade for media rights, Malifa and his wife, Jean, have gone through hardship never experienced by anyone else in the Pacific Islands. The fact they own and operate the Samoa Observer, Samoa's only daily newspaper, should have been a cause of pride in their country. Instead, for both of them, the paper has been the reason they have come close to being killed.

This award is not the first for Samoa media's First Couple. They have previously won the Pacific Islands News Association Pacific Freedom of Information Award. This they were given for their "courageous defence of the right of the Samoan people to freedom of information and expression". In 1988, in Kuala Lumpur, they received the Commonwealth Press Union Press Freedom Award.

This one may seem like the icing on the cake, or the jewel on the crown. But it is not, for although the award should be a sign of victory, for Sano and Jean it only reminds them of the pain and losses they have suffered at the hands of some of Samoa's most powerful people. For example, a murder trial in Samoa recently heard allegations that a former government minister accused of the murder of another minister tried to hire an assassin to kill Malifa. It's the kind of horror stories you are not supposed to hear in Paradise.

And that is exactly why we say that the award by the prestigious International Press Institute is also cause for sadness.

The award, while reminding us of the courage that created a crusader like Malifa, is a testimony of how fragile are our people's rights of information and expression. If freedom of information and freedom of expression were always secure in the Pacific Islands, there would have been no reason for an international watchdog to be honouring one of our leading editors with an award given in the defence of media rights and freedom.

Malifa's award therefore puts us under the spotlight, like a highlighter marking our place in the world of the damned. Right throughout the Pacific Islands, countries like Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea have at some stage in their recent history tampered with the rights of people to be free to express themselves without fear.

Of the 50 heroes honoured by the International Press Institute, five were brutally murdered, one is in prison in Syria, one is under house arrest in China and one refused permission in Cuba to travel overseas.

These brutal acts are not confined to places outside the Pacific Islands. The Malifas have been assaulted, threatened with death and seen their printing plant burnt. During the military coup in Fiji in 1987, journalists were arrested by armed soldiers and imprisoned. In Tonga, journalists have been jailed, in Vanuatu they have been deported and in Papua New Guinea they have been threatened and assaulted.

The award given to Malifa, then, is not a victory prize. It is an indictment. It is proof that many of our leaders have failed in one of their fundamental duties to guarantee for everyone their right to information and their right to free expression.

Making the difference are people like Sano Malifa and Jean. Under the threat of death, they still fight our battles.

+++niuswire

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