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RSF Appeal For Military To Guarantee Press Freedom

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International Secretariat

Asia-Pacific Desk


Fiji: Reporters Sans Frontières asks military to guarantee press freedom

and journalists' safety

In a letter sent today to the new strongman of Fiji, Commodore Franck Bainamarama, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) expressed concern about the deterioration of press freedom in the country after the ransacking of Fiji Television and threats made against journalists by gunmen and supporters of businessman George Speight. They have held the prime minister and the majority of the government prisoner since 19 May 2000. RSF asked Commodore Bainamarama to guarantee press freedom and to ensure journalists' safety in the country. Robert Ménard, the general secretary of the organisation, said: "After this deliberate ransacking and the different attacks during the weekend, the insurgents have shown their true face: enemies of press freedom." Finally, RSF asked Commodore Bainamarama to ensure that Fiji Television could resume broadcasting as soon as possible.

According to the information collected by RSF, on 27 May gunmen and soldiers fired at the Parliament building where at least 30 people are being held hostage. Jerry Harmer, a cameraman from Associated Press Television News was injured in the arm during the shooting. Meanwhile about ten reporters were taken prisoner and held inside the building. One of the gunmen said he was "very angry with international and Fiji journalists". According to some witnesses, one local journalist was beaten by gunmen. Reporters were also attacked by George Speight supporters outside Parliament.

The next day the building of Fiji Television in Suva was ransacked by a mob of George Speight supporters, armed with stones, knives and a few guns. They entered the offices, threatened the journalists and cut the signal. A few hours before, journalists and personalities had strongly criticised George Speight during programmes such as "Close-up". A few hours later, the same mob attacked the Centra hotel where most of the foreign journalists are staying. Shots were heard. After those incidents, the Fiji army declared a 48-hour curfew. Martial law was imposed and president Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was dismissed.

Vincent Brossel
Asia Pacific Desk
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