Vanuatu: Outrage Over Heavy-Handed Crackdown On Social Media Commentator
OPINION: PORT VILA (Transparency Vanuatu / Daily Post / Pacific Media Watch): Daily Post readers were shocked this week to see a front page news report that a senior Vanuatu journalist, Gratien Tiona of The Vanuatu Independent, had been arrested and held in custody in a cell normally reserved for alleged criminals, reportedly following comments he made on the web forum, Yumi Toktok Stret.
The news has spread around the Pacific and via world media links in the wake of a social media post on the Yumi Toktok Stret Facebook page concerning the Council of Ministers meeting that took place last week in the Torba Province.
Apparently the journalist’s comments were postings in reply to comments submitted by other subscribers to this public forum where comments were made relating to what is considered standard protocol in the transport of state officials – using the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh as an example. That is, that they would never fly together on a commercial plane as in the event of any accident or disaster both could be affected.
Domestic and international reaction was immediate with regional media outlets expressing outrage that such a heavy-handed approach, involving the police, had been instigated by the Prime Minister’s office.
For journalists, this draconian and seemingly illegal incident was made all the worse because it occurred during the same week as the world-wide annual UNESCO World Press Freedom Day, and because the Prime Minister is responsible for media in the country.
The World Media Freedom Day on 3 May 2013 focused on the theme “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media” and shone the spotlight in particular on the issues surrounding the safety of journalists, combating impunity for crimes against freedom of expression, and securing a free and open social media as a frontline for safety and transparency.
It has been many years since this level of vindictive action has been taken by government against a journalist, prompting many people to believe that the era of victimising media members, such as the expulsion of private newspaper publisher Christine Coombe in the1980s and the deportation of Daily Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones before he became a Vanuatu naturalised citizen, was at an end, and would go down in history as shameful incidents of a more immature and difficult Vanuatu past.
However, this blatant lack of respect for the law has changed all that, especially since there was apparently no official complaint made to the police and the proper police procedures were not followed, evidenced by the fact that the Public Prosecutor confirmed there were no grounds for any action against the journalist, who was eventually released from custody. - Editorial comment by Transparency Vanuatu