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Fiji: Police detain, seize laptops of three suspected bloggers

Categories: Fiji, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Protest, Technology

Police in Fiji detained [1] three local lawyers and seized their laptops, supposedly because of a possible connection to a popular anti-government blog.

The lawyers, Richard Naidu, Jon Apted and Tevita Fa were taken into custody Tuesday, May 19, held for a few hours and then released.

Police admit [2] the three were detained, but would not provide a reason why. The investigation is ongoing. However, Dorsami Naidu, President of Fiji Law Society claimed [3] the men were detained in alleged connection to Raw Fiji News, an anonymous blog that is highly critical of the regime of military ruler Frank Bainimarama.

Impunity Watch reported [4] the three lawyers are certain the police won’t find any evidence of their alleged blogging; rather, they suspect authorities could be looking for confidential client information. Naidu and Apted are partners in one of Fiji’s most prestigious law firms and have represented the Fiji Times in court. Fa is the legal counsel for Laisenia Qarase, the Prime Minister ousted in the December 2006 coup that brought military leader Frank Bainimarama to power.

During the previous week, Real Fiji News, a pro-government blog, began naming whom it considered to blog for Raw Fiji News, alleging it is Naidu, Fa and Apted. Also on the list is Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi and Netani Rika, editor of the Fiji Times. The only proof offered is that the names Ratu (a Fijian word meaning chief) Joni, Fa and Naidu spell out the acronym RFN.

While the three were detained, Raw Fiji News continued publishing.

Blogs have played an important part in Fiji’s news landscape since April 10 when the country’s president abrogated the constitution and appointed the government of military commander Frank Bainimarama to a five-year term [5]. Shortly after, the government passed a series of public emergency rules regulating the media [6] (among other things). The rules, which were extended for another 30 days on May 10, forbid the media from printing stories that could “give rise to disorder.” The government carries out these directives by placing censors in media offices. Internet cafes are also forced to close at 6 pm.

Since April 10, five local journalists have been detained by police for breaking these rules. On top of that, three foreign journalists have been asked to leave the country because their reporting is viewed as critical of the regime.

With the media clampdown, news from inside Fiji is hard to come by. In turn, news media in Australia and New Zealand have reported on items culled from Fiji’s bloggers.

See Global Voices special coverage of Fiji's constitutional challenge [7].