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Journalists Charged For 'Associating With Rebels'

SUVA (PMW): Two Fiji Islands journalists based in the northern town of Labasa have been arrested and charged for unlawful assembly and unlawful use of a motor vehicle over the seizure of a military barracks by rebel soldiers, according to media reports.

The journalists are Fiji Times reporter Ruci Mafi and Radio Fiji's northern correspondent Theresa Ralogaivau. They were charged on 13 November 2000 and are to appear in court on December 4.

According to the Fiji Times on November 14, the two are accused of "mingling with rebels" who took over Sukanaivalu barracks at Labasa as well as riding in their vehicles between July 4 and August 3.

The rebel takeover came during a series of uprisings around the country in support of coup leader George Speight who seized Parliament and held the elected government hostage for 56 days. Speight and 13 followers are now facing treason charges.

"The law is for everyone and no journalist should overstep that line," northern divisional Police Commander Samuela Matakibau told the Fiji Sun.

"We found it appropriate that charges must be laid and the offenders be brought to justice.

"We are merely doing our duty. And to the best of our ability we will probe all the people involved, no matter what positions they are holding."

Both reporters have been the subject of media speculation in recent months over allegedly consorting with the rebels, but they have denied any involvement.

The Pacific regional radio news cooperative Pacnews reported that the police decision to charge the two journalists had shocked local media organisations with many reporters seeing it as another attempt by the authorities to interfere with the work of the media.

Both reporters were sent by their respective media organisations to the military base to cover the mutiny.

According to Pacnews, the Fiji Times was questioning why police had singled out the two women journalists when other reporters had visited the military camp at the height of the mutiny.

Their case follows the detention by the army for six hours without charge of two Radio Fiji journalists and the station's acting chief executive on October 20 over a story alleging deep division within the military.

Although the military denied the report, a subsequent bloody mutiny erupted on November 2, claiming the lives of eight soldiers.



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