Last April, the publisher and three staff members of the Fiji Times were charged with inciting communal antagonism over an anti-Muslim article. Now the Director of Public Prosecutions is considering whether to upgrade the charges, to sedition. More from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
The article in question appeared in Nai Lalakai, a i-Taukei language newspaper published by the Fiji Times. In translation, it read in part: “Muslims are not the indigenous of this country.” It went on to accuse Muslims of murder, rape and abuse of women and children in countries it said they had invaded and warned that some Muslims had found their way into Fiji’s Parliament.
The article was written by Josiah Waqabaca, imprisoned after the military coup in Fiji in 2000 for his part in a plot to kidnap Frank Bainimarama; then the military commander, now the elected Prime Minister. Waqabaca, the editor of Nai Lalakai and the editor and publisher of the Fiji Times were originally charged with incitement to hatred. Yesterday, Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Lee Burney told the High Court in Suva the charges will be amended, to sedition. The maximum penalty: seven years in prison.
The media watchdog Pacific Freedom Forum said that while the Fiji Times needed to improve control of its content, the government should take a step back.
“The Best place to answer unfair opinion, and this certainly seems unfair,” PFF spokesman Jason Brown told Radio New Zealand International, “is in the court of public opinion, not the actual courts themselves.”
In a statement, David Robie, director of the New Zealand based Pacific Media Center condemned what he called a naked attempt to suppress free expression and criminalize free speech.