27 January 2009 – The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is increasingly alarmed at the deteriorating press freedom environment in Fiji as authorities deported the publisher of The Fiji Times today. It is the third deportation of a senior newsman in less than a year.
Rex Gardner, the publisher and acting CEO of The Fiji Times, was deported to Sydney, Australia, after being declared a prohibited immigrant. Gardner is an Australian citizen.
Gardner’s expulsion follows on the heels of a court ruling on January 22 in which he and The Fiji Times were convicted for contempt of court for publishing a letter to the editor which criticised a High Court ruling upholding the legality of Fiji’s 2006 military coup.
Gardner was discharged on a good behaviour bond while The Fiji Times was given 27 days to pay a fine of FJ$100,000 (about US$54,000).
“No reason was given for my deportation and I probably won’t get one either – because that’s the way they operate, the dark of night and this sort of thing,” Gardner said, according to news reports.
“The actions of Fiji’s military government are pushing the already-starved information consumers of Fiji further into the dark about issues surrounding the workings of the interim government and deny the public a fully independent and critical media. Fiji’s military government appears to be trying to turn Fiji into a closed society,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said
Gardner’s deportation order cites section 13(2)(g) of Fiji’s Immigration Act, which refers to the removal of people deemed to pose a potential threat to the Government.
Fiji’s authorities used the same tactic to clamp down on critical and independent media throughout 2008.
In May, Gardner’s predecessor at The Fiji Times, Evan Hannah, was deported under the same section of the Immigration Act.
In February, Russell Hunter, also an Australian citizen and publisher and managing director of The Fiji Sun, was deported as a “prohibited immigrant”. He was accused of being a threat to national security.
In December, Barbara Dreaver, the Pacific Affairs correspondent for Television New Zealand One, was detained at Fiji’s Nadi Airport and refused entry into the country.
“The deportation of Rex Gardner further underscores the lengths to which Fiji’s authorities are prepared to go to punish media that does not toe the government line,” Park said.
Gardner’s deportation came as a meeting of the Pacific Forum was to be held in Papua New Guinea today to discuss the failure of Fiji’s interim military government to restore democracy. Frank Bainimarama, who led the 2006 coup and heads Fiji’s military government, declined to attend the PNG meeting.
Bainimarama has said in the past that the interim government is committed to media freedom but that there are limitations to constitutional guarantees on freedom of the press.
The IFJ calls on Fiji’s authorities to make transparent the real reasons for deporting Gardner, and to desist from their efforts to silence independent media in Fiji.
The IFJ also appeals to all leaders of Pacific island countries to work together to protect the right of all people in Fiji to enjoy a free media and freedom of expression.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.
God bless Fiji