The International Federation of Journalists
(IFJ) joins the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) in commending a UN Pacific Regional Office
of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) statement voicing “serious
concern” over media rights abuses by a Minister of the Vanuatu
In an opinion piece published
on September 20, OHCHR Pacific Regional Representative Matilda Bogner notes the
importance of a free media in good governance and lists guidelines for leaders
to help address the culture of impunity for the harassment of journalists.
Bogner’s comments were made in relation to lenient
sentences being imposed on Vanuatu Government Minister Harry Lauko, and
others, who pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the March 4 assault on
journalist Marc Neil-Jones at the Daily
Post office in Vanuatu’s
capital city, Port Vila.
The IFJ supports the PFF and other regional media groups’
ongoing campaign against media freedom abuses in Vanuatu, and welcomes Bogner’s
statement as a step towards further action.
“Attacks on journalists are
an attack on press freedom and democracy. Journalists and the media
play an important watchdog role in society, and it is essential that the media
is able to report freely and independently without fear of physical abuse,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director
Jacqueline Park said.
“Authority figures and
members of the public with complaints about media reports must use appropriate
non-violent complaint procedures.”
law the sentence for this kind of assault, where no permanent damage is caused
to the victim, can attract a prison term of up to 12 months. Minister Lauko was
fined VT 5,000 on one charge and VT 10,000 on another (a total of around USD 150)
on June 30.
Other more serious
charges of unlawful
assembly, unlawful entry and criminal trespass were inexplicably dropped
in response to Minister Lauko pleading not guilty. Seven other men sentenced
along with Lauko received fines of up to VT 100,000 for their roles in the
The IFJ joins the PFF in their calls for a country or
regional visit by the UN
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank La Rue, to investigate threats to press freedom In the Pacific.
The IFJ applauds the UN’s
response to attempts to roll back media freedoms in the Pacific, and welcomes
further statements against states who fail to protect the rights of journalists
to practice their craft without fear for their safety.
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