Fiji Times publisher Hank Arts, centre, outside the High Court. Photo / Fiji Sun
“Outdated seditious libel laws inherited by Fiji from the United Kingdom should be left back in the colonial era where they belong” - PFF
Fiji Times Publisher Hank Arts and Editor Fred Wesley exit the High Court yesterday, after hearing of plans to look at sedition charges over an opinion column. Photo / Fiji Village
ARCHIVE (from PFF FB page):
Judicial partners should encourage the Fiji prosecution office to pull back from sedition charges against the country's leading newspaper, says PFF, the Pacific Freedom Forum.
"Fiji's judiciary is again out of step with the rest of the region", says PFF Chair Monica Miller, speaking from American Samoa.
"Colleagues from around the region need to extend what they've learn from many millions in aid spent on improving judicial services."
Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde, was this week given 21 days leave by the Fiji High Court to consider whether or not existing charges of "inciting communal antagonism" should be upgraded to sedition.
The charges stem from an opinion piece in an indigenous language newspaper, Nai Lalakai, published criticising the role of Muslims in the Fiji government.
In iTaukei, the column includes the passage which raised incitement charges:
“Muslims are not the indigenous of this country. These are people that have invaded other nations, for example, Bangladesh in India, where they killed, raped and abused their women and children. Today they have gone to the extent of having a part in the running of the country.”
Anti-muslim opinion - former politician Josaia Waqabaca outside Fiji High Court this week. Photo / Rama / Fiji Times
Column author Josaia Waqabaca faces incitement charges along with Nai Lalakai editor Anare Ravula, The Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley, along with Fiji Times Ltd publisher and general manager Hank Arts.
Miller says the opinion piece has already been attacked in public as deeply unfair to Fiji Muslims.
"And that's where unfair opinion should be challenged - in the court of public opinion - not the actual courts themselves," says Miller.
PFF is repeating earlier calls to drop the incitement charges, and abandon any move towards sedition charges.
"Outdated seditious libel laws inherited by Fiji from the United Kingdom should be left back in the colonial era where they belong", she says.
The United Kingdom abolished the offence of seditious libel in 2009.
Miller describes leave given by the court as sending the completely wrong message about the role of the press.
"Hopefully, other courts around the region do not see this as a precedent for dealing with the Fourth Estate."
The case returns to court on 23 March.
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The Pacific Freedom Forum is a regional and global online network of Pacific media colleagues, with the specific intent of raising awareness and advocacy of the right of Pacific people to enjoy freedom of expression and be served by a free and independent media. We believe in the critical and basic link between these freedoms, and the vision of democratic and participatory governance pledged by our leaders in their endorsement of the Pacific Plan and other commitments to good governance. In support of the above, our key focus is monitoring threats to media freedom and bringing issues of concern to the attention of the wider regional and international community.
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