PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
FIJI ‘MORE PEACEFUL’ UNDER MARTIAL LAW, GOVERNMENT SAYS
HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Times, June 12, 2009) -Fiji's interim government has extended the Public Emergency Regulation (PER) in the country for another 30 days citing "security situation" in the country as the reason. This has fueled further criticisms and questions as to the real purpose.
According to Fijilive, Government and military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Neumi Leweni, confirmed the extension 'saying this was based on the security situation in the country' and that the government is "guided by its intentions to direct the nation towards a more peaceful and harmonious society that is free from all forms of discrimination and corruption".
Under the regulation, which has been in place since April, the government, among many other things, can censor the media and prevent them from printing any articles which may not be to their liking or which they deem a 'threat to national security'.
Since its implementation back in April, censors have been placed in newsrooms around the country to oversee the articles being released by news outlets.
The following is taken from the Fijilive article in which Lieutenant-Colonel Neumi Leweni justifies the extension of the PER.
He said it was to be expected that the initial period of the re-building process would naturally be difficult for some members of the public to understand.
"But, Government will continue to appeal for the public's understanding and active support. Ultimately, Government must take responsibility for the nation and especially to ensure that it successfully completes the work it had initially set out to do," Leweni said.
He said Fiji as a whole benefited from the emergency regulations, "especially since most sections of the media are now more responsible with the way they report on national issues".
"The absence of politics from the national agenda, for instance, is contributing positively to the peace and stability of the nation. People are now more focused on their lives, families and work without being distracted by the divisive and fragmentary views that were prominent in the period before the emergency regulations were implemented.
"The tourism industry is also showing signs of resilience and is picking up very quickly due to a number of factors, one of which includes more positive reports about tangible developments throughout the country and about people going about their usual friendly and accommodating way of life, which Fiji is renowned for.
"Given these, and other contributing factors, Government is now extending the public emergency regulations for an additional 30 days."
The issue of the PER has been a much-debated topic not only in Fiji, but also around the region and internationally with condemnations that it was an excuse used by the military regime to muzzle the media and prevent it from reporting negative situations taking place around the country.
Issues have been raised that the censorship is a direct violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which Fiji is a signatory of.
Lieutenant-Colonel Leweni's statement that Fiji has benefited from the emergency regulations, "especially since most sections of the media are now more responsible with the way they report on national issues" has been severely criticized as many national issues such as unemployment are also occurring but the media is not allowed to report on such issues.
Last week, an associate editor of one of the country's main newspapers spoke out about the censorship.
According to Papua New Guinea's Post-Courier, who ran the article, the editor says the 'media is suffering a dangerous and deafening silence under the military regime's new legal order', saying that 'the new Public Emergency Regulation 2009 handed the military "wide-ranging and arbitrary powers to decide what the people of Fiji should not be told'.
According to the report, the journalist outlined what it was like to continue to write stories that hold the government to account only to have civil servants come in each night and "systematically attempt to erase any trace of disaffection".the journalist states "they arrive after 6pm and leave somewhere around 10 and in between that time, they shred to pieces our intrinsic right to freedom of expression".
The journalist added that people are still talking and that the fear 'is that without a public vent, the situation could get dangerously worse'.
"The danger is when these frustrations build up with no vent, or they reach people for whom there seems to be nothing left to gain, or lose. "It's of vital importance that the truth be known, that the truth be reported widely and that there be free discussion around matters of community or national interest."
According to Post Courier, the journalist was 'brave to tell her story, given other journalists who have similarly spoken out since April have been detained and questioned over their actions' and that the journalist's own newspaper was not able to publish those details.
In fact, reports state that another reporter from one of the country's main news companies was taken to the military barracks last Friday over his columns which were not to the regime's liking and he was asked to change his future views in the columns.
He is among quite a number of people that have been reportedly taken to the barracks for speaking out against the regime or holding views not supportive of the regime.Solomon Times
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