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PINA condemns military action against Radio Fiji journalists

(PINA/IFEX) - On 20 October 2000, PINA called the taking away of three Radio Fiji journalists by armed Fiji Military Forces soldiers outrageous and a total overreaction. PINA called for the military to immediately and unconditionally allow Radio Fiji acting chief executive Francis Herman, news director Vasiti Waqa and reporter Maca Lutunauga to go free. The organisation said the military forces should have no role in questioning journalists and trying to get them to reveal their sources for news reports.

Radio Fiji employees said armed soldiers came to the station on the morning of 20 October and left with Herman, Waqa and Lutunauga. They were taken to the army headquarters, Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Suva, local news media reported. They said this followed a Radio Fiji report earlier in the morning, saying the army is not happy about Vice President Ratu Jope Seniloli acting as president while the president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, is overseas for medical treatment.

Radio Fiji reported that the three Radio Fiji journalists were being questioned at Queen Elizabeth Barracks by two senior army officers over their source for this report. Radio Fiji said that after six hours of questioning the trio had still not revealed their source. It said a Radio Fiji company lawyer was now also present. Radio Fiji said it stood by its report. On Fiji Television, a military spokesperson, Major Howard Politini, said the Internal Security Decree allowed the military to detain people for up to forty-eight hours for questioning.

The trio were later taken to Suva's Central Police Station where they were questioned by police and then released, Fiji Television reported. It quoted Herman as saying they could still face charges under the internal security decree.

PINA said that during the recent Fiji troubles, the Fiji Military Forces had generally had an excellent record in relations with the news media. But its latest actions are damaging the international reputation of both the country and the Fiji Military Forces.

Background Information

On 19 May, indigenous Fijian gunmen, including renegade soldiers, took Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, and his government hostage. Following unrest and violence the Fiji Military Forces declared martial law. Fiji is now governed by an interim administration supported by the country's Great Council of Chiefs and the Fiji Military Forces. Ratu Jope, later appointed the interim vice president, had been the coup group's choice for president.

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