Fiji’s journalists should not be censored

December 6, 2011

Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama
4th floor Govt. Bldgs., New Wing
Suva, Fiji

By facsimile: 011-679-3305319

Dear Commodore Bainimarama:

Five years after the military coup that brought you to power in Fiji, we note with concern the letter to you by Human Rights Watch and other organizations that was issued Friday. We would like to underscore their points on press freedom restrictions in Fiji.

In 2009, your government banned any reporting critical of your regime and posted censors in newsrooms to ensure compliance under emergency regulations. A Media Decree introduced in 2010 empowered a government-appointed tribunal to fine or imprison journalists for reporting “against the national interest” or publishing stories without a byline. The decree was announced as a replacement for the emergency regulations, yet both are being enforced, according to local press freedom groups and news reports–despite the fact that the emergency regulations were initially introduced for only 30 days.

A clause in the decree enforcing local ownership of news outlets was widely seen as targeting the then-Australian-owned Fiji Times, the country’s oldest newspaper and a vocal critic of your failure to establish democratic rule since the military coup in 2006, according to CPJ research. The newspaper complied with the ownership requirements, and editor Netani Rika stepped down in October 2010, telling his colleagues that his perceived anti-government stance was a threat to the paper, according to the Australian Associated Press news agency.

But harassment of the outlet has continued. Fiji Times journalist Felix Chaudhary was detained for an hour in February and questioned about his reporting, according to the local press freedom group Pacific Freedom Forum. The Times‘ new editor, Fred Wesley, told the group that the newspaper’s website was suspended this year because of its failure to meet the requirements of the Media Decree. It went offline on April 18, according to the Forum.

Ambassador Peceli Vocea pledged to improve Fiji’s human rights record at the June 2010 United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch noted. We support their call for you to renew that public commitment and to act on it by rescinding the emergency regulations and the Media Decree. We urge you to allow Fiji’s press corps to work uncensored and the industry to self-regulate.

Thank you for your consideration.

Joel Simon
Executive Director