For the second time this month, Fiji’s military government has threatened to send a newspaper editor and its publisher to prison for publishing a letter to the editor alleged to be in contempt of court.
In mid-October, the Fiji Times and Fiji Daily Post printed a letter from a certain Vili Navukitu of Queensland, Australia complaining about a recent high court ruling that legitimized the actions of the country’s president in dissolving the Parliament, and the elected government of Laisenia Qarase, immediately following the December 2006 coup that brought into power Commodore Frank Bainamairama.
The letter (which has been reprinted in this post) pointed out that Bainimarama had undue influence on the jurors because he had previously removed the court’s chief justice.
After the letter was published, Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum accused the Fiji Times of being in contempt according to Fiji’s laws because it casted doubts on the integrity and independence of the courts. The Fiji Times printed a front-page apology admitting contempt and offering to pay all court costs.
The Attorney General, unimpressed with the apology, has asked the court to jail the editor and publisher of the paper and apply stiff fines to the paper. The case is in recess until December. The editor and publisher of the Fiji Daily Post, where the letter also appeared, could meet the same fate, the Attorney General declared this week. Both newspapers have been asked to provide full details of the letter writer.
The scandal comes at the heels of the announcement that press freedom group Reporters Without Borders ranked Fiji 79th for press freedom out of 173 countries, a large leap from the previous year, where it was 107.
Fiji’s bloggers have largely expressed outrage at the case against the two newspapers.
The blog Soli Vakasama complained that the Fiji Daily Post also apologized to the judiciary, which is something no newspaper should ever have to do:
[T]oday the Fiji Daily Post dedicated its entired editorial towards apologising to the judiciary and therefore caving into the illegal interim government and that arse of an AG’s demands. While they maybe in a tight spot, the question we may ask is when will the so called “Fourth Estate” be man enough to draw a line in the sand and say it as it is instead of complying to the selfish demands of these illegal bunch of thieves who stole power through the barrel of a gun?
If the media are not game enough to do it we will say it at Solivakasama that there are certain members of the judiciary who are a bunch of low down selfish self serving scums…
However, not all people agree with those sentiments. A commenter, Budhau points out:
This ain’t about Aiyaz and what he says. The issue is contempt of court and regardless of who is in power or who the judges are – the letter, and the publishing of the letter was contempt.
Now the newspaper folks should have done a better job of going through the letters before the print it – not because of the content, but to deal with issues like contempt of court, libel etc.
Mark Manning claims:
There was no contempt of court as the case had already been heard and dealt with . It’s only contempt if the case about to be heard or is in the process of being heard . It’s actually freedom of the press and it’s a Journalists job to report these matters , but not while the case is before the courts .
“FIJI'S JUDICIAL responses to contempt by two local newspapers become sillier and sillier,” writes New Zealand Journalist David Robie’s blog Cafe Pacific.
The contempt laws for scandalising the court were never meant to stifle vigorous debate about court rulings. Citizens Constitutional Forum chief executive Rev Akuila Yabaki says the draconian prosecutions “stifle free speech in an oppressive manner“. The paranoid climate around the judiciary following last month's controversial High Court judgment declaring the post-coup regime to be legitimate is deteriorating.
Discombobulated Bubu, which reprinted the letter (along with another equally critical one) says these opinions are on the tongues of many people:
These letters to the Editor of the Fiji Times reflects the mood of the country right now. Our people are sad, angry and struggling to make ends meet. As one who is involved with charity work on a daily basis, it is no exaggeration to compare Fiji to Zimbabwe.
We are truly at the beginning of Zimbabwe's slide into self-destruction…
When the taxpayer can see that there hard earned money is being spent on trivial things such as new uniforms for Teletubby and his band of marching boys, thousands of dollars a day to an expatriate FIRCA consultant, thousands of other dollars for useless and unnecessary overseas trips for Baini, Mary and accompanying entourage, a Charter process costing millions that is failing big time, thousands of dolllars for a Charter consultant to produce a Class 8 essay, and useless court judgements costing thousands to legalise murder and coups, prolonged and vindictive false prosecutions against “enemies of the State” , something has got to give.
Our Fiji was never given to us to be run by bullies with guns. Be warned , the military regime in Fiji is living on borrowed time.
Raw Fiji News looks ahead to December, when the country’s government will publish its new law governing the media.
And to stifle the media even more, Frank’s gestapo regime is going to impose their media law in December. And we say, bring it on! The truth is this – in this new day and age, information reaches people the way they want to receive it. And guess what, more breaking and detailed news can be found outside of the mainstream media with a touch of a button and people already know that and are accessing it online all the time. Sounds familiar? Yep, that’s us the new i-peoples of this world who don’t rely on the media to tell us waz up and waz down!