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Protest Over Harassment Of Journalist

SUVA (PMW): Deposed Fijian Affairs Assistant Minister Ratu Isireli Vuibau has attacked a Pacific Fishing Company (PAFCO) senior executive for instigating the police and military harassment of freelance journalist and trade unionist Tomasi Tokalauvere on the island of Ovalau, according to news reports.

"Using clandestine military personnel within a government-owned company smacks of a paramilitary state," said Vuibau.

The Sunday Post reported Vuibau's criticisms on 1 October 2000 but did not name the condemned company executive.

The newspaper said that soldier Sergeant Jonasa Vueti on September 25 "unlawfully arrested" Tokalauvere who was in Levuka for negotiation of an industrial agreement between the PAFCO company and PAFCO Employees Union.

The Fiji Sun reported on September 30 that Tokalauvere and union president Abele Vasi had been forced off the company premises at gunpoint.

Tokalauvere told the paper the pair had been forced to sign a bond not to enter the company premises.

"You can't argue with a gun," said Tokalauvere, adding that he told the police he was signing under duress.

Levuka's police chief Inspector Vikatore Raga denied that police or military manhandled Tokalauvere, but admitted the military brought him to the police station for "documentation".

"I wish to make it clear that the Levuka police did not touch Mr Tokalauvere," Inspector Raga told the Sunday Post.

According to the Sunday Post, Tokalauvere claimed Sgt Vueti had accused him of being "behind the [May 19] coup and the PAFCO takeover", which the unionist decsribed as "ludicrous".

Tokalauvere said: "I was the Fiji Labour Party candidate for the Lomaiviti Fijian communal seat in the last general elections [May 1999]. We won the elections hands-down but we were illegally thrown out of office on May 19 [by George Speight and his rebels].

"To accuse me of orchestrating our own downfall has no logic - nothing short of madness."

According to Ratu Vuibau, Tokalauvere had been previously threatened by the elite special forces group Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit, now known as the First Meridian Squadron.

Tokolauvere was credited by the Fiji Sun as having broken a story about a formal inquiry into Police Commission Isikia Savua's alleged involvement in the ousting of elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's coalition government.

He also reported rebel leader Speight's role in the Wattle Group pyramid selling scam in Australia.

* The Sunday Times reported on October 1 that Fiji's military installed interim administration planned to impose a tough new decree to clamp down on trade unionists and others advocating trade sactions against the country.

+++niuswire

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH ONLINE: http://www.pmw.c2o.org

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

(c)1996-2000 Copyright - All rights reserved.

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