In another controversial move, Fiji has deported another newspaper publisher in a similar manner in which Fiji Sun publisher, Russell Hunter, was removed in February.Reports from Fiji media indicate that Fiji's interim military-led government is once again trying to muzzle its media by deporting Fiji Times publisher, Evan Hannah.
As reported by Fiji Times Online, who is closely following the case as of last night, police and immigration officials arrived at Mr. Hannah's residence in Suva last night and detained him there before taking him to Nadi International Airport to be deported. However, as of this writing, there has been no confirmation yet from Fiji if Mr. Hannah has actually been put on a plane and flown out.
Earlier this year, in February, another publisher of another major newspaper in Fiji, The Fiji Sun, was deported from Fiji. The publisher, Russell Hunter, was also taken from his home at night and officials did not inform his wife or child where Mr. Hunter was being taken and Mr. Hunter was put on a plane and flown out of Fiji. This is despite Mr. Hunter having a valid working visa.
The government said that Mr. Hunter "was conducting himself in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, security and stability of the sovereign state of the Fiji Islands" to justify its actions but it however gave no specific reason to explain the deportation.
However, earlier the Fiji Sun had published articles about an interim government minister who has allegedly avoided taxes and the newspaper revealed that it was the interim Finance Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry. It was also revealed that the interim Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, was aware of the incident as he had been approached by officials from Fiji's tax department who even provided him with alleged evidence. However, those who followed up on the case were removed from office.
Mr. Hunter had been allegedly threatened not to publish such articles which the interim government said was "inciteful". So it was an odd coincidence when soon after the publications, Mr. Hunter was taken from his home at night and deported.
The Fiji Times also published the articles about the tax evasion and earlier, Mr. Hannah had been summoned to meet Fiji's Attorney General regarding an alleged controversial article the newspaper was supposedly going to publish. However, details of the meeting were not disclosed.
According to Fijilive, authorities in Fiji claim to be unaware of the incident with the Permanent Secretary at the Prime Minister's Office, Pramesh Chand, having told Fijilive "that he is not aware of the situation" and referred their query "to the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence and Immigration".
'Police spokeswoman Ema Mua said she is not aware of any police involvement in Hannah's removal'.
Fijilive also added that 'neither Defence Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau, whose authorization is needed for the deportation, or Immigration Director Viliame Naupoto could be reached for comments' and the Police Commissioner, Esala Teleni, also could not be reached.
According to Fiji Times Online, its editor-in-chief, Netani Rika, said 'circumstances surrounding The Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannahs removal from his home was deeply disturbing'.
"We are deeply disturbed that an incident such as this would take place two days before Media Freedom day and less than 12 hours after the interim Prime Minister made a public statement calling for better relations with the media industry and promising to uphold media freedom," said Mr Rika.
Commodore Bainimarama has been regularly critical of media saying that the industry was not regulating itself appropriately and accusing the media of "sowing discontent and discord in the name of media freedom" and of negative reporting, according to Fijilive.
His latest statement in regards to the upcoming World Media Freedom Day, was that "Over the past year some media reporting have left much to be desired and some reports have been careless, irresponsible and some in fact have been inciteful and destabilizing, posing a threat to national security and stability."
However, Bainimarama has always stated that the media in Fiji were still free. But the criticisms from around the world and from the region itself that there is no media freedom in Fiji since the coup is only being further proven with the recent deportations and attempts to stop the media from reporting questionable actions and seemingly corrupt practices by members of the interim government.