Fiji: Drop politically-motivated sedition charges against The Fiji Times

The Fijian authorities must immediately drop politically-motivated sedition charges against The Fiji Times newspaper group, Amnesty International said today.

“By charging the Fiji Times with sedition, the Fijian authorities are using a crude tactic to intimidate and silence one of the few independent media outlets left in the country,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“Journalists and media houses should be allowed to do their legitimate work freely and without fear of reprisals. The dark days when official censors roamed Fijian newsrooms, telling them what they can and cannot print, are best left in the past.”

Fijian prosecutors amended charges in an ongoing case against The Fiji Times Limited to sedition on Friday, putting the newspaper group’s publisher Hank Arts, editors Fred Wesley and Anare Ravula, and a letter writer at risk of a maximum seven years’ imprisonment. If they are imprisoned, Amnesty International would consider them prisoners of conscience.

The sedition charge will be heard in court on Tuesday 28 March, in Fiji’s capital, Suva.

The Fiji Times Limited is one of the world’s oldest newspaper groups. It publishes the English-language daily, The Fiji Times, founded in 1869, and the weekly iTaukei vernacular newspaper, Nai Lalakai.

The prosecutors were initially pursuing charges of inciting “communal antagonism” against The Fiji Times Limited in response to a reader’s letter published in the group’s iTaukei-language daily, Nai Lalakai, on 27 April 2016.

The letter contained controversial views about Muslims. It was not written by any member of The Fiji Times Limited, but by a member of the public and published in the readers’ letters section, without the newspaper endorsing the views contained in it.

“The letter was distasteful, but its author has a right to their views, as long as they do not incite violence. The authorities are failing on their obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression under international law. It is the job of a newspaper to be a forum for different views, even if it may cause some offence,” said Josef Benedict.

“The fact that the authorities have seized on this one letter to bring charges against editors and publisher who did not write it, makes clear that the case is politically-motivated. The Fiji Times has a strong record of journalistic independence, a tradition that is now imperiled by these charges.”

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