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Detained Radio Fiji Three Released

SUVA (PMW): Fiji Islands police tonight set free two senior editorial management staff and a journalist working for state-owned Radio Fiji after they had been detained for questioning for more than seven hours about an early morning news bulletin, according to media reports.

During their detention they had been threatened with charges while being pressured unsuccessfully to reveal their sources. But legal sources told Pacific Media Watch on 20 October 2000 they had been freed without formal charges at present.

PMW understands that they were threatened by the military with being charged under Section 15 of the Emergency Powers Act, a provision that is effectively "incitement", or under a military-imposed Internal Security Decree in the wake of the May coup.

The legal sources said the three people - acting chief executive Francis Herman, news director Vasiti Waqa and reporter Maca Lutunauga - had been freed about 6.05pm. They had been detained and taken away from the radio station by armed soldiers about 11am.

The sources said they had been offered immediate release providing they disclosed their sources for the news story about the military. The military claimed the report was "unbalanced".

The military was reportedly angered by a Radio Fiji news report on the 7am news bulletin quoting an army source as saying that the military objected to having the Vice-President, Ratu Jope Seniloli, act as president and army commander in chief when the country's president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, leaves for a long overdue medical treatment in Sydney.

"The radio report said the military did not want to take orders from Ratu Jope because he was nominated for the post by coup leader George Speight, who now faces treason charges and is awaiting trial with 20 of his key supporters on Nukulau, an uninhabited island off the Suva coast," reported the regional radio news cooperative Pacnews.

Although the military played down the detention and denied that the three had been arrested, colleagues at the station said they had been taken away by soldiers at gunpoint.

After being detained by the military at barracks in the capital of Suva for about six hours, they were handed over to police custody and taken to Central Police Station for further questioning for about an hour.

The Fiji Media Council, an independent self-regulatory body for Fiji's media industry, appealed for the immediate release of the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Ltd staff.

According to Fiji Live on October 20, council chairman Daryl Tarte said there was no justification for detaining the three.

Tarte said that if the military had any complaint against the news organisation about the substance of any story then it should be referred to the council which would deal with it under the independent complaints procedure.

According to an earlier report by Pacnews, military spokesperson Major Howard Politini confirmed the three were being questioned over a story broadcast by Radio Fiji.

Asked by Pacnews whether the trio went voluntarily, Major Politini said "he did not know because he did not accompany the soldiers to the radio station".

Pacnews said it had been told that Ms Waqa had called her newsroom half an hour after her detention to instruct her reporters not to use the word "arrested." She said that the army had taken them in for "questioning".

"She said she could not say much. She used her boss's mobile phone to talk to her reporters," reported Pacnews.

Radio Fiji reported in its main bulletin at noon on October 20 that two senior army officers were interrogating Waqa; Herman, who is also general manager public broadcasting of the station; and reporter Lutunauga.

"Radio Fiji said the three were being questioned by the Fiji Military Forces' deputy commander, Colonel Alfred Tuatoko and the military's lawyer, Major Etueni Caucau. The two senior officers were demanding that the trio reveal the source of their story," reported Pacnews.

On the station's 5.40pm new bulletin, Herman was quoted as saying that Radio Fiji stood by its story and had not revealed any sources.

Fiji Television reported their release just before the end of its half-hour 6pm national news bulletin.

+++niuswire

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


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