In a decision that has been welcomed in the region, three executives and an opinion writer from the Fiji Times have been cleared of sedition by the Fiji High Court on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has strongly welcomed the decision, declaring it a win for press freedom in Fiji and the Pacific.
Tuesday’s decision came after a panel of three High Court assessors found all parties in the case including publisher, Hank Arts, editor, Anare Ravula, editor-in-chief, Fred Wesley, and opinion columnist Josai Waqabaca, not guilty of the charges in a preliminary court ruling.
The charges stemmed from a column Waqabaca wrote, which was published in the April 27, 2016, edition, Nai Lalakai, of a weekly indigenous-language newspaper, which is published by the Fiji Times. According to AP, Waqabaca’s column ‘accused Muslims of historic crimes including invading foreign lands, rape and murder’. A senior government official complained, and subsequently, Waqabaca was charged with sedition for intentionally promoting “feelings of ill-will and hostility” between Muslims and non-Muslims in Fiji.
Arts was charged with sedition for overseeing the column’s publication, while Ravula and Wesley were charged with aiding and abetting sedition.
In the ruling, Justice Thushara Rajasinghe said, "the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the letter was seditious".
The IFJ welcomed the ruling, saying: “While we welcome the ruling on this case, that fact that the Fijian government pursued the case, raises serious questions about its intent and the guarantee of press freedom in Fiji. The media must feel safe at all times to pursue stories and investigations without fear of retribution or legal proceedings.”
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