Australian newspaper executive expelled from Fiji

New York, May 2, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the deportation of the Australian manager of leading daily Fiji Times by the interim military government of Fiji today.

A deportation order for Evan Hannah issued Thursday by the government cited work permit irregularities, Agence France-Presse reported. Fiji’s National Security and Immigration minister, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, said Hannah’s “actions were breaching national security,” according to the BBC.

Russell Hunter, the Australian manager of rival paper The Fiji Sun, was also deported from Fiji in February for threatening national security, following reports his newspaper published about government corruption, news reports said.

“The deportation of two senior media representatives on vague security charges this year is a very bad omen,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “That governments resort to hazy ‘national security’ charges leads us to conclude that their real goal is to silence journalists.”

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Fiji Times editor Netani Rika said that the action against Hannah was an example of government intimidation. He described the newspaper, which is published by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, as consistently critical of government policies. It will continue to publish, he said.

Hannah was taken from his home in the capital, Suva, by officials on Thursday evening, according to reports on the Fiji Times Web site. Later on Thursday, the High Court ordered immigration officials to produce Hannah in court to justify his detention, but Hannah was put on a plane that left for South Korea today, the reports said. The Fiji Times will continue to challenge the legal basis for the deportation, according to news reports.

Fiji’s interim government took control in a bloodless military coup led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama in December 2006. Bainimarama has pledged to restore democracy in 2009.