But while the programme drew some 25 comments complimenting Bulou Amalaini over the interview, three people emailed the radio station complaining about a section discussing the recent Methodist Church controversy. Regime leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama banned this year’s annual conference of the 200,000-strong church. The commander also demanded that the church sack two former presidents who were involved in previous coups, Rev Manasa Lasaro and Rev Tomasi Kanailagi, and are being blamed for “incitement”.
Acting chief executive Tom Etuata, of Niue, suspended Bulou Amalaini off air in response to the complaints – even before discussing the programme with her. He says the radio network aims for "balance". Bulou has now been told the suspension has been lifted, but it is understood she has not actually been scheduled for the regular five-hour Saturday evening Fiji slot since her June 6 broadcast.
All three complainants were hostile over Yabaki's and her criticisms of the Methodist Church. Said one: "And to bring such a person to openly criticise my church and its affairs to the people on New Zealand, how dare she do that. She continues to add on comments and remarks with suggestions about how we should run our church - who the hell is she?"
In this current post-Easter climate of media censorship in Fiji and the dearth of quality comment about the political situation, Bulou Amalaini’s programme has been a gem. It has been marked by quality and in-depth research and credible commentators. “But a lot of people don’t like Rev Yabaki for his forthright and independent views – and for the same reason, some don’t like me,” she told Café Pacific.
Among views expressed in the Yabaki interview were:
It’s difficult to get national news broadcast out of Fiji without it being censored by the regime. We have to find an alternative way of transmitting this information to the outside world, particularly when we are depending on the international community to help out.On the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution:
Yes, it’s true that our Constitution has been abrogated. However, basic human rights still exist globally - and this includes the right of freedom of speech. Every human being has the right to freedom of speech and although the Public Emergency Regulation is in force … we have to try and work a way around this censorship.On the chilling of free speech:
People are not so forthcoming for fear of victimisation, whereby they could lose their jobs and all interviews are being screened as directed by the regime. This does not augur well for a solution. Instead we need to keep the dialogue open. And, as I have mentioned before, there were some discriminatory overtones in the last Parliament but that does not mean that freedom of expression should be curtailed altogether.On arbitrary arrests and detentions:
We are concerned at the arrest and detention of people by the police and military. Following the abrogation of the Constitution on April 10, the Public Emergency Regulation (PER) was promulgated for 30 days [and Bainimarama says it will now be in force until the end of the year] ... This PER [was] embedded in our Constitution and can be executed by Parliament as a security measure if there is civil unrest or disturbance in the country. It had never been used before until the coup was staged in December 2006 and more recently after 10 April 2009.On the banning of the Methodist Church annual conference:
The Methodist Church chose not to be a member of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) ... The Methodist Church is very much in disarray. If you look at the history of the stand that the Methodist Church has taken in the past 20 years, you will note that it supported the first coup of 1987 and also George Speight’s coup in the year 2000. But it opposed the coup of 2006 because it believes that Fiji should be governed by Fijians, who are their members, as if it were their divine right. This was the case when Dr Timoci Bavadra and Mahendra Chaudhry’s Labour Party won the general elections of 1987 and 1999.How ironical that those objecting to the Bainimarama regime’s censorship in Fiji should seek to gag a prominent Fiji broadcaster in New Zealand for trying to open up debate.
Picture of Rev Akuila Yabaki - The Fiji Times.