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Fiji Times Acknowledges Letter Threat Inquiry

* See PMW/Pasifik Nius items 2998, 2996, 2988

SUVA (PMW): The Fiji Times, the country's main daily newspaper, has finally acknowledged a furore over a letter published in its columns apparently advocating violence.

The threatening letter is claimed by a pro-democracy group to be a breach of the Public Order Act.

The newspaper reported on 25 September 2000 that the contributor was under investigation "for using a bogus name and writing letters that abused the right to freedom of speech".

This news report was the first time the letter was mentioned by The Fiji Times since it was published on the editorial page almost a week ago, on September 19. The Citizens' Constitutional Forum complained to the police same day, Fiji Television broadcast a news report on September 22, and rival daily newspaper the Fiji Sun published a report the next day on September 23.

According to the Fiji Times: "The author who signs his letters as Taniela Balase has been claimed as the untrue writer of letters sent to the Fiji Times Letters to the Editor column.

"The matter was brought to the police attention by the executive director of the CCF, Rev Akuila Yabaki.

"Acting Police Commissioner Moses Driver yesterday said a team of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers was looking into the matter.

"Mr Driver would not furnish the real author behind the letters sent by Mr Balase."

However, pro-democracy advocates believe the author of the letter is actually a prominent politician or civil servant using a pseudonym.

Rev Yabaki, in his September 19 letter to Driver, claimed the Fiji Times and Balase breached the Public Order Act.

He claimed the letter incited ill will and racial hatred.

The controversial letter, headed "Fight for democracy", was published in the Fiji Times on September 19 under the name Taniela Balase.

Rev Yabaki's letter of complaint said the correspondent claimed he knew of "indigenous pressure groups" and "fundamentalists" who had drawn up a blacklist of "fighters for democracy".

According to the correspondent's letter, the blacklist was one of businessmen, politicians, trade unionists, academics, civil servants, prominent lawyers, judges, some NGO members and sugar cane farmers who would be singled out for attacks.

Rev Yabaki's complaint quoted the Balase letter as saying: "What is being talked about has sent chills down the spines of some listeners to the point that some do not even dare speak about it."

Rev Yabaki said: "The implication there is that people in this 'black list' will be murdered or horribly tortured etc because they are regarded as 'perpetrators of evil' for propagating 'democracy and human rights'."

He said that as the executive director of a group whose membership consisted of some people who came under the categories mentioned in the blacklist, he called upon the police to urgently investigate Taniela Balase and the Fiji Times for publishing the letter.

The motive of the letter was to "instill fear and hatred of organisations such as CCF".

Yabaki's letter reminded the police that Section 30(1) of the 1997 constitution guaranteed the right to freedom of speech and expression. However, the constitution was abrogated by the military regime on May 30 after declaring martial law.

This following a putsch on May 19 when the elected Fiji Labour Party-led coalition government was deposed by rebel gunmen and held hostage for 56 days.

+++niuswire

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