The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly criticizes the latest move by Fiji’s Public Prosecutor with the charges against staff at the Fiji Times. The IFJ calls for all charges against the four staff members to be immediately dropped.
In August 2016, Nai Lalakai newspaper editor Anare Ravula, TheFiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley, publisher and general manager Hank Arts, Fiji Times Ltd and contributor Josaia Waqabaca were charged with inciting communal antagonism over an article which was published by the newspaper’s i-Taukel language Nai Lalakai paper in April 2016. According to reports, the article accused Muslims of invading foreign lands, and killing, raping and abusing women and children. The article was written by Josaia Waqabaca, who was jailed after the 2000 coup, for his role in a plot to kidnap the then military commander, and now prime minister, Frank Bainimarama.
In August the Public Prosecutor in Fiji charged the four staff members under Fiji’s Crimes Decree, which under Section 65, prohibits any communication that is likely to incite dislike, hatred or antagonism of any community. The maximum penalty for the charges in 10 years imprisonment. In October 2016, the four staff members all pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bail.
On Tuesday, March 7, the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Lee Burney, informed the High Court in Suva that they were considering filing fresh charges against the staff, particularly looking at sedition charges. The maximum punishment for sedition charges is ten years imprisonment. High Court judge Justice Thushara Rajasinghe gave the prosecution 21 days to consider whether to file sedition charges against the accused.
The case has been adjourned to March 28.
Pacific Freedom Forum Chair, Titi Gabi, said: “Arresting senior staff from the daily newspaper is a sad step backwards to the bad old days of the military regime. From the facts given by prosecutors, this is a clear case of overkill, given that the maximum penalty for one charge is ten years in prison.”
IFJ said: “The charges brought against the staff of The Fiji Times are a blatant attempt to silence and intimidate the media in Fiji. Cases such as these should be handled outside the courts. This case is being used a tool to suppress the media and tightening the government’s control on press freedom in Fiji."
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