Sunday, November 4, 2007

Human rights groups scoff at Fiji military-backed regime's plot claim

Civil society campaigners in Fiji have scoffed at the allegations of a funded assassination plot against the regime's interim prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Both the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre coordinator Shamima Ali (pictured) and Pacific Centre for Public Integrity director Angie Heffernan rejected allegations on Radio New Zealand National's Morning Report today. Fiji police commissioner Elesa Teleni later announced three people has been charged with treason and conspiravy to commit murder. Many of the 16 detained people reportedly had links with George Speight who led the May 2000 coup.
Both civil society groups have been strong critics of the post-coup regime. Ali told the Fiji Times that the FWCC acted constitutionally and denied being part of any assassination plot against members of the interim regime as well as senior members of the military. She said her movement was a human rights-based organisation and had no problems being questioned by police because all its activities were lawful. She added that all books were properly audited and there was no way any funding of an alleged assassination plot against Bainimarama and other members of his regime could happen.
"Every financial transaction is recorded in our books and we welcome any check by anyone interested," she told the Fiji Times. Heffernan told Radio NZ the regime should come clean with any evidence it had. Until it did so, this was just an "alleged plot". She also called for evidence of any plot in an interview with the Fiji Times, saying she believed it was also an attempt to divert attention from the military's failed attempts to have soldiers and police murder suspects in the Sakiusa Rabaka case leave the country under a United Nations mission to Iraq.
Ali said nobody deserved to be beaten up when being questioning over a criminal allegation.
Millionaire New Zealand citizen Ballu Khan was admitted at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital - and is under heavy guard - after injuries suffered while in military and police custody on Saturday night. He was denied access to a lawyer over the weekend. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has condemned the abuse of human rights.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Paris sets Tahitian electoral crunch time for January

Tahitian President Oscar Temaru (pictured) isn't too happy about the timing, but France has confirmed that a snap general election will be held over two rounds in late January to sort out the territory's continuing governance issues. French Secretary of State for Overseas Christian Estrosi has indicated that the election would be held on January 27 with a run-off two weeks later on February 10. Patrick Antoine Decloitre reports in his Oceania Flash service, quoting Estrosi:
"In no case will I change course. Yes, at the end of January, after all the stages of consultation and democracy have been completed, the (French) Polynesians will be able to one again decide for themselves about their future and their own destiny", Estrosi said during speech during a function at the French High Commissioner's residence with over three thousand guests in attendance. Earlier this week, Estrosi addressed French Polynesia's legislative assembly in similar terms to justify his plans for electoral reforms and snap elections for the French Pacific territory. Meanwhile, French MPs in the National Assembly are to initiate the debate on Estrosi's Bills on November 22, French media reported on Thursday. The Bill is scheduled to be tabled for the first time before the French Senate (Upper House) on November 12 and before the French National Assembly (Lower House) by the end of November 2007.
Since newly-elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed him in June 2007, Estrosi has embraced a hands-on approach to address a perceived spate of ongoing political instability in French Polynesia, for the past three years, which has already seen six Presidents come and go during that period, all of them ousted through motions of no confidence.

Monday, October 29, 2007

'Pulling the plug' in Burma - new insights into the blackout

Reporters Without Borders has hailed a report by Stephanie Wang of the OpenNet Initiative on the way the Burmese junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), cut the country’s internet connection on 29 September. Founded by the universities of Harvard, Toronto, Oxford and Cambridge, the OpenNet Initiative studies internet filtering issues and the social impact of new technologies. Published on 22 October, Wang’s report, entitled "Pulling the Plug," describes the process of Burma’s isolation. For two weeks, a news blackout was imposed and most Burmese got their news from satellite TV and radio. Excerpt from the RSF report: "Control of the internet was facilitated by the fact that Burma’s only two ISPs, BaganNet and Myanmar Posts and Telecom (MPT), are state offshoots. The OpenNet Initiative report goes into detail about how the shutdown was implemented, with times, ISPs involved and methods used.
"'The junta attempted to sever the flow of information so that the picture of reality for people on both sides of the Burmese border would remain distorted," the report says. "As a result, the targets for censorship expanded exponentially from websites that are critical of the junta to any individual with a camera or cell phone and direct or indirect access to the internet.'
"The report says internet use increased within the country during the crisis because it was always possible to use censorship-evasion techniques. The intranet carried on functioning correctly and MPT provided a connection to the sites of military offices (, and and to those sites that offered no political news. Some sites such as and did however post news about the demonstrations during the blackout that were not censored.
"'Many believe that the breakthrough uses of the internet over this period have enabled some irreversible gains," the report says. 'Multiple generations of Burmese living locally and abroad have found linkages to each other as blogging became increasingly recognised as a valuable source of information (...) even the vast majority of Burmese without access to or knowledge of the internet may have benefited from the enduring achievement of a small band of citizen bloggers and journalists.'"
Burma was ranked 164th out of 169 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2007 world press freedom index. Since the demonstrations got under way in September, eight journalists have been detained and a photographer has disappeared.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Jschool honours two journalists for integrity

John Henningham's Jschool in Brisbane has just awarded honorary degrees to two Australian journalists who were fined and almost jailed for refusing to name confidential
sources (see story below). John, one of the pioneers of Australian journalism research by practitioners, says he would be interested in hearing about other journalists' experiences with legal and political attacks on source confidentiality.
Excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 25, 2007) story about their awards: "[Melbourne] Herald Sun reporters Gerard McManus and Michael Harvey were convicted and fined in June for refusing to divulge the identity of a source who leaked information in 2004 about the workings of federal government veterans affairs policy. The pair argued they were upholding their professional code of ethics, but the judge ruled they were not immune to criminal charges. Brisbane's Jschool awarded Mr McManus and Mr Harvey honorary doctorates for their 'courageous stand in upholding the code of ethics by maintaining confidentiality of sources'."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Demonising dissent - New Zealand-style

From Global Peace and Justice Auckland's newsletter:
"It’s a grim time for democracy and civil rights in New Zealand with 17 'terrorism suspects' arrested in para-military raids across the country this month. For many people the situation is confusing at best but for those who know the people arrested it is astonishing. How could the police believe a group of Maori sovereignty activists, peace campaigners and environmentalists could pose a credible terrorist threat to New Zealand?
The police have raised the spectre of terrorism despite, after 15 months of intensive surveillance, no decision yet being made as to whether terrorism charges will be laid. In the meantime the damage is being done. The public are being softened up to accept that we have terrorism in New Zealand. Under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 a terrorist is defined as someone who, for political reasons, causes '…serious disruption to an infrastructure facility, if likely to endanger human life…' This broad definition would include many of the protests against the 1981 Springbok tour. It threatens to demonise legitimate political dissent. Even people committed to non-violence with no intention to harm anyone or damage property can qualify as terrorists.
"Meanwhile the latest Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill is being pushed through Parliament. Under this law New Zealand would automatically adopt the UN (effectively the US) list of terrorists and terrorist organisations. A law like this in the 1980s would have made it illegal to provide support for the African National Congress in the fight against apartheid or for campaigns to have Nelson Mandela released from jail. Today groups such as Hamas, despite being democratically elected to government in occupied Palestine, would be a designated terrorist group (as it is in Australia).
"A Kiwi added to the list by another country (as a result of police action last week for example) would have great difficulty being removed from the list. Sweden and the Canada have faced huge difficulties with their citizens being designated in this way through the UN process. The new legislation also sidelines our courts in favour of the Prime Minister designating and then reviewing terrorist classifications. Why should the PM be judge and jury? Under this proposal someone like Ahmed Zaoui wouldn’t have had a chance. Prime Ministers are susceptible to international pressure. It is only a phone call away. At least with the courts there is the semblance of independent scrutiny.
"The government says the police, SIS and lawmakers are all working hand in hand to keep New Zealand safe. The truth is that our lawmakers are blindly putting in place savage attacks on civil rights while the police and SIS are eager to test their new powers and are excited at the prospect of joining the war on terror.
"As it is New Zealand’s anti-terror legislation is set up to demonise dissent and legitimate political protest while removing civil rights safeguards. Dissent provides the oxygen on which a democracy depends. We throttle it at our peril."

  • No terror charges
  • Immediate bail for all arrestees (innocent until proven guilty
  • Withdraw the Terrorism Suppression Act and its amendments

    Check out the website

Moana Jackson - extract from his "primer on terrorism allegations":
"Maori see symmetries between the Terrorism Suppression Act and the 1863 Suppression of Rebellion Act. The targeting of mainly Maori as 'terrorists' in fact mirrors the earlier legislative labelling of those Iwi [that] resisted the land confiscations as 'rebels'. Tuhoe see particular parallels with the fatal police raid on Maungapohatu in 1916. The unthinking or deliberately provocative setting up of the latest police roadblock on the confiscation line simply add to the grievance and the sense of colonising deja vu."

Primer on terrorism allegations

Saturday 27 October is an international day of action to defend civil liberties and oppose the use of terror laws. Stand up for all our rights. What is happening where.
Auckland: Demonstration Saturday Oct 27th at 12 noon meeting in Aotea Square.
Auckland marches against 'terror suppression' raid - Joe Barratt at Scoop

Previous posting - Hundreds protest over NZ state repression

Monday, October 22, 2007

Amirah's tour focus on Philippines human rights

Amirah Ali Lidasan's tour of New Zealand gets under way today with a bid to make Kiwis better informed about the political struggles of the Muslim minority in the Philippines. Amirah is national vice-chairperson of the Suara Bangsamoro Party List Organisation, which seeks representation in Congress for the Philippines’ several million Muslims - the Moros. She is a young progressive Muslim Filipina with a history of senior leadership in the student movement in Manila and is a leader in groups such as the Moro Christian People’s Alliance. She has an international profile. In March 2007 she was part of a Philippine human rights delegation which toured North America and Europe, drawing international attention to the human rights crisis at home. Campaigner Murray Horton from the Philippine Solidarity Network of Aotearoa says: "Amirah Ali Lidasan’s tour presents a unique opportunity to hear firsthand about a war in our own backyard that is almost totally unknown to New Zealanders. She is the first Filipino Muslim speaker that we have hosted, and a Muslim woman at that."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hundreds protest over NZ state repression

More than 200 people have protested in downtown Auckland on Saturday over this week's controversial dawn raids in New Zealand and the arrest of some 17 activists. The protesters condemned the police actions and ridiculed the country's proposed new terror laws. Scoop's Joe Barratt reported: "Showing a unified front, the protest was attended by a wide range of activist groups, and also included family and friends of the accused. But for many there is also the larger fear of what the arrests represent, and of what could happen if the legislation amending the Terrorism Suppression Act of 2002 currently before Parliament is passed."
Leading Tuhoe activist and campaigner Tame Iti (right) was among the 17 arrested, as police swept Maori sovereignty, peace and environmental activist groups. Tuhoe people accused the police of terrorising an entire community with heavily armed raids and by boarding school buses. The Tuhoe tribe never signed the Treaty of Waitangi and has a long history of resistance for their tangata whenua rights against colonial and state rule. The police raids follow international pressures for New Zealand to adhere to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. New Zealand was one of four countries that voted against the UN Declaration, along with the US, Canada and Australia. Mainstream media have been accused of being one-sided.
Former Listener editor Finlay Macdonald, writing in his weekly Sunday Star-Times column "Law of the jungle" , said: "Once again, the interests of national security trump those of open justice. Public scepticism quite reasonably grows. Last week's raids and arrests were conducted under both normal criminal law as well as the Terrorism Suppression Act, although no actual charges have been laid under the latter. The question has to be what distinguishes these alleged offences from any ordinary criminal or conspiracy case? As ever with issues such as these, we are implicitly asked to take the authorities on trust. Unfortunately, recent experience only encourages cynicism."

Friday, October 19, 2007

NZ's Pacific minister praises AUT over Pasifika boost

Opening AUT University's new Pacific Media Centre officially last week, NZ Associate Minister for Pacific Island Affairs Luamanuvao Winnie Laban was full of praise for the university's diversity media initiatives. She says AUT has "stepped up to the plate" to take the lead in the sector. She acknowledged the efforts being made in media research and curriculum development and challenged other j-schools, media and universities to follow a similar path. AUT has:

Says Laban: "This centre demonstrates commitment to our cultural diversity, but also to critical thinking and the pursuit of excellence." Pictured: Luamanuvao and PMC director David Robie at the unveiling of the PMC plaque. Photo: Alan Koon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fiji regime rapped over blogger flak

While regime chief Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama and the vexed Fiji question irritates a couple of pale southern neighbours at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tonga this week, Pacific Journalism Review has published an insightful inquiry into the post-coup blogging issue. And the regime has landed itself on hot coals. Sophie Foster, a onetime editor of the now defunct Pacific Islands Monthly and a former senior editorial hand at The Fiji Times, reckons the military is partly responsible for the number of political blogs that have expanded the media landscape in Fiji since the fourth coup last December. She says blogs have flourished because of the military squeeze on dissenting opinion. Sophie is now a postgraduate student in Pacific media studies at the University of the South Pacific in Suva and she is clearly making good use of her research time.
In her PJR paper, Sophie says that while some blog content was racist, defamatory, provocative and irresponsible, the argument for a free, responsible press has also been also strengthened as an option worth maintaining in any society. This edition of PJR has been produced jointly by the USP journalism programme and AUT University's Pacific Media Centre. PJR cover cartoon by top Kiwi cartoonist Malcolm Evans.
Incidentally, in the latest Reporters Sans Frontieres world press freedom index, bloggers are reported to be threatened as much as in international media.

Monday, October 8, 2007

New NZ survey exposes disgruntled journos

A survey of more than 500 New Zealand journalists has revealed marked unhappiness about levels of pay, resourcing and training, reports the Pacific Media Centre. The “Big Journalism 2007” survey found that, while many individual journalists are very satisfied with aspects of their jobs, overall most want improvements in (respectively) pay, support, mentoring and staffing levels.They want more opportunity for discussion and input into ethical and professional issues such as sensationalism, more guidance on how to cope with commercial and advertising pressures, and more time and resources to pursue investigations. The survey, titled "Under-paid, under-trained, under-resourced, unsure about the future - but still idealistic", published in the latest Pacific Journalism Review, is the first to ask NZ journalists what they think about a variety of topics such as quality of news coverage and their ethics and standards.
The survey revealed a generally ethical stance among journalists, with most agreeing that NZ journalists do not omit or distort relevant facts, and that stories are based on journalistic rather than political or commercial values. Asked to rate the quality of NZ news coverage, journalists rated sports coverage the highest, while foreign coverage got the lowest rating, at slightly below average.
The survey was conducted jointly by Massey University lecturers James Hollings, Alan Samson and Dr Elspeth Tilley, and Waikato University associate professor Geoff Lealand. It builds on Dr Lealand's previous surveys of NZ journalists.
The old and the new journos, according to cartoonist Malcolm Evans.

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