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PFF calls on Fiji AG to stop human rights assault

Pacific Freedom Forum

Media Release

PFF calls on Fiji AG to stop assault on human rights

Friday 14 November, 2008: On behalf of all supporters of a free media in the Pacific region, we the members of the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) express our concern and alarm at the Interim Government of Fiji's escalating campaign of intimidation against media freedom in Fiji.

We respectfully appeal to the Attorney General of Fiji Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum to immediately stop his continuing and unreasonable legal pursuit of Fiji Times editor Netani Rika and Publisher Rex Gardner over the paper's recent publication of a letter to the Editor which was critical of the High Court of Fiji's validation of the 2006 military coup.

The Pacific Freedom Forum also directs this appeal to the Interim Prime Minister of Fiji, Commodore the Hon. Voreqe Bainimarama, whose portfolio responsibilities include the Ministry of Information.

Co-chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea said, "The PFF has been moved to make its second media statement on this issue in less than two weeks (see the PFF's 31 October statement PFF warns against growing culture of intimidation in Fiji) because of the Attorney-General's November 11 announcement that the Government will apply to the High Court to impose jail sentences on the Fiji Times Publisher and Editor over this matter, and is also seeking to impose a hefty fine on the newspaper."

"We readily acknowledge that professional media standards require that freedom of expression also carries a responsibility to respect the legal rights of others, " said Laumaea.

"However, we note that the Fiji Times has already publicly and prominently apologised for any legal breach it may have committed, by printing a front page admission that it was in contempt when it published the offending letter to the Editor, and has offered to pay costs."

PFF Co-chair Samoan journalist Monica Miller, said in any other democratic country, such an apology would be sufficient.

"While we do not condone the Fiji Times' failure to live up to its own high standards by publishing the letter in question, this careless oversight has already deeply embarrassed a newspaper with a long and proud record in Fiji, and could also lead to a significant financial penalty, " said Miller.

"We believe that a major lesson to be learned from this affair is that there is an urgent need for higher standards of subediting, and a much stronger commitment by media proprietors in Fiji and around the South Pacific to training journalists in this vital skill," continued Miller, a past president of the Pacific Islands News Association.

"The people of Fiji should realise that this is not just a media freedom issue. It is a human rights issue."

The PFF is particularly concerned that the action by the Attorney-General will infringe on the citizens of Fiji's rights to free speech. People may now think twice about writing letters to the daily papers to express their legitimate thoughts and opinions, in case they somehow upset the Attorney-General (or indeed any other Government official.)

We believe the Attorney-General's actions are contrary to the "Freedom of Expression" provision enshrined in Chapter 4, Section 30 of the Constitution of Fiji, which states:

(1) Every person has the right to freedom of speech and expression, including:

(a) Freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas; and

(b) Freedom of the press and other media.

It also goes against the principles enshrined in Article 19 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

PFF calls on Fiji's Interim Prime Minister, His Excellency President Josefa Iloilo, and the nation's church and community leaders to counsel the Attorney-General to cease these attacks on the inalienable human rights of the people of Fiji.

And we pray that organisations that stand for human rights in Fiji and around the world will join us in lobbying against the actions taken by Fiji's Attorney General. ENDS

The Pacific Freedom Forum are a regional and global online network of Pacific media colleagues, with the specific intent of raising awareness and advocacy of the right of Pacific people to enjoy freedom of expression and be served by a free and independent media.

We believe in the critical and basic link between these freedoms, and the vision of democratic and participatory governance pledged by our leaders in their endorsement of the Pacific Plan and other commitments to good governance.

In support of the above, our key focus is monitoring threats to media freedom and bringing issues of concern to the attention of the wider regional and international community

© Scoop Media

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