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Journalists manhandled by new PM's security

(PINA/IFEX) - Fiji Islands news organisations have complained over the
manhandling of journalists by police guarding the country's new prime
minister, "The Fiji Times" reported on 12 June 1999 (local date). The
newspaper stated that on 11 June, after a caucus meeting of Prime Minister
Mahendra Chaudhry's Labour Party, a police officer guarding Chaudhry pushed
a Fiji TV camera operator away, pulled another reporter, and attempted to
push another. In a report headlined "PM's minder roughs up journalists", the
newspaper also said: "The police officer has been known to push reporters or
remove their equipment when they approach Mr Chaudhry." Chaudhry is also
Fiji's Information Minister.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 4 June, 21 May and 7 May 1999**

His assistant information minister, Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi, promised to look
into the behaviour of the security personnel, "The Fiji Times" said. "This
is an open government and we want to ensure the flow of information," it
quoted Vayeshnoi as saying. But Secretary to Cabinet Jioji Kotobalavu said
security around Chaudhry has been tightened. He said journalists must accept
there are some meetings that they are not invited to, "The Fiji Times"
reported. "And depending on the circumstances, manhandling people who have
come near the prime minister will have to be for the prime minister's sake,"
Kotobalavu said. "We cannot have any Tom, Dick and Harry running off the
streets and pushing their way to him."

Police increased security following the election of Chaudhry as Fiji's first
ethnic Indian prime minister, from descendants of indentured sugar
plantation workers brought from India during the British colonial era. In
1987, Chaudhry was a minister in an ethnic Indian-dominated government ouste
d in a coup by the indigenous Fijian dominated army following unrest over
their election.

Background Information

Following his election last month, Chaudhry pledged on 21 May to not
legislate against the media or impose media licensing, "The Fiji Times"
reported. But Chaudhry said media organisations, starting from management,
need "a lot of tuition," the newspaper reported.

He complained during the general election campaign that some media
organisations were biased against his Fiji Labour Party. He alleged a "media
plot" to prevent Labour from winning. This charge was vigorously rejected by
the media, especially "The Fiji Times", which is the biggest daily newspaper
and also publishes Fijian and Hindi-language weeklies. It pointed out that
politicians from all political sides were alleging media bias against them
and in favour of their opponents (see IFEX alert of 7 May 1999).

"The Fiji Times" is a previous winner of the PINA Pacific Freedom of
Information award for its defence of the public's right to know.

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