Saturday, November 21, 2009

Criminal libel case dropped against Tempo Semanal

How Pacific Scoop reported José Belo's presidential award.

From Tempo Semanal

A YEAR ago Tempo Semanal published a series of stories that became known as the "SMS Scandal" in which it alleged corruption by Timor-Leste's Justice Minister Lucia Lobato, along with Timorese and Indonesian business people, in relation to projects under her ministry. These projects included the Becora Prison, uniforms for prison guards and Timor-Leste national identity cards projects.

Café Pacific has followed this affair and TS stories include:

1. Tempo Semanal: Edition 108: SMS texts evidence: Minister for Justice Gives Herself And Friends Projects
2. Tempo Semanal Edisaun 108 SMS: MJ Fo Projektu ba An Rasik no Ninia Belum Sira
3. Translation Tempo Semanal Edition 135: (Minister of Justice SMS Corruption Scandal Continues)
4. "Identity Card Project Breaches Law No. 10/2005 and Confirms Allegations of KKN." [In the Ministry of Justice] "Identity Card Project Breaches Law No. 10/2005 and Confirms Allegations of KKN [1]."

Lobato reacted angrily and in October 2008 lodged a criminal libel case against Tempo Semanal and its director José Antonio Belo.

Browse stories on the criminal defamation case:

1. Justice minister sues East Timor newspaper
2. Pacific Freedom Forum Petitions Against "Unconstitutional" Defamation Case
3. Defamation Case against Tempo Semanal: Lao Hamutuk
4. ETAN urges dropping of defamation charges against Timorese editor
5. TAPOL protests against defamation charges against Timorese journalist

Lobato reported the case of criminal defamation against José Belo to prosecutors. Belo was investigated by the International Prosecutor on 19 January 2009 and has been under city detention since then. He has to report to the prosecutor if he wants to travel away from Dili more than 15 days. Since last year, Belo has only made two trips out of Timor-Leste and had to refuse three invitations for foreign travel. He went to Australia for 10 days and to Indonesia for four days.

Pictured: Lucia Lobato - Minister of Justice.

On 13 November 2009, PNTL delivered a two-page notification letter to Tempo Semanal offices in Palapaso Dili.

These letters informed Tempo Semanal officially that the case of criminal defamation had ceased on 15 June 2009 and were signed by International Prosecutor Jose Landim.

The notification letter stated:
The crime of defamation was decriminalised by the new Timor-Leste Criminal Code, DL No. 19/2009 of 8 April 2009, as a result of which the accused can no longer be held criminally liable.

In effect, pursuant to the provisions of article 3, 1. of Timor-Leste's new Criminal Code, 'nobody can be held criminally liable as a result of facts prescribed as criminal acts at the relevant time it was carried into action if the law subsequently ceases to consider it as a crime'.

As such, because it is not now possible to continue with the criminal proceedings against the accused, the proceedings currently on foot are hereby ordered to be closed pursuant to article 235, 1. c) of the Criminal Code.
Tempo Semanal director Jose Antonio Belo congratulated the Prosecutor-General and all her staff by putting the law in place. However, at the same time Belo was disappointed the case would not reach court so that the facts of the corruption case might come before the public.

Belo said he was aware that the then Prosecutor-General had demanded that Justice Minister Lucia Lobato submit more evidence before the case could be sent to court:
Tempo Semanal and I have been left in confusion for an entire year and we don't know the situation of the case against us but this afternoon we have receive this notification letter.

As a Timorese journalist, it is very sad to see our Minister of Justice's actions by lodging a criminal defamation case against Tempo Semanal and me while her office was producing the new East Timor Penal Code which decriminalised defamation.

It seems like the Minister for Justice is confused about Timorese law.
Belo said he would like to make it clear to Tempo Semanal readers that “we are not afraid to go court to prove our story and that's why we have requested the kindness from the good office of the deputy Prime Minister to encourage the Minister of Justice to carry on the case.”

Jose Belo and Tempo Semanal also thanked all those friends who gave courage and support at this difficult time.

It remains unclear if the minister will ever faces charge in relation to the accusations of corruption that have been made against her by Tempo Semanal, the Provedor, the Parliamentary Opposition and many others.

Tempo Semanal's award on Pacific Scoop

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Freddie's second bite at Post-Courier ethics

WHAT has happened to Papua New Guinea's Post-Courier, the once fearless and crusading newspaper that set the tone for professionalism and ethics in the South Pacific? Yes, we know standards have been slipping for some time. But what is it with the Filipino "aliens" fiasco last week? Is an anti-Asian bias getting in the way of the facts? Media commentators around the region have reacted strongly over what appears to have been a lie.

Why would the newspaper defend this? A former editor-in-chief of the Rupert Murdoch-owned daily, Oseah Philemon, could hardly believe it.

Philemon, OBE, who came out of retirement as regional editor to head up the Momase bureau of the rival Malasian logging company's The National, snorted: “No editor in his right frame of mind would stand by any story if he knows – after being told the facts – that the story he published is wrong, incorrect in detail and ought to be retracted ... I am rather appalled that the Post-Courier can still hold its head high after committing the worst sin in journalism.”

Freddie Hernandez, a senior subeditor on The National, exposed the blatant example of yellow journalism in his blog Letters from Port Moresby last week. Some other media such as Pacific Scoop followed up. And the Parliamentary Bipartisan Committee investigating the anti-Asian riots in May now seems ready for the chop after losing credibility in this media mess. And now Freddie has followed up with this week with another condemnation of the Post-Courier, this time calling on Asian residents of Papua New Guinea to ostracise the newspaper:


By Freddie Hernandez in Port Moresby

WOULD you defend a blatant and deliberate lie? Yes, by all means … at least in PNG’s liberal media environment, Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid Post-Courier has shown in the past week that it would.

Not really. Because over the years, the Post-Courier has flaunted its sheer arrogance as it printed on its pages stories whose credibility were immediately questionable, but not bothering to admit to the transgression and to rectify it.

And worst, it has even fabricated anti-Asian reports, passed them on as truth, and for which the reporters and editors stood by them even to the demise of their own credibility.

One classic example which stands unparalleled yet in the Pacific was showcased on Page 1 by this paper just very recently.

It headlined a fabricated report that proved to be very damaging to the reputation of some 10,000 Filipinos here in PNG and peddled it across the nation as “the plain truth”.

I remember my country’s despot, President Marcos, who had once said that “lies when repeatedly uttered become the truth”.

As far as I am concerned, Marcos’ dictum and what the Post-Courier does in its every day reporting where it peddles lies here and there don’t differ that much. Henceforth, what this daily dishes out would always be deemed as lies, however hard you try to believe them, simply because the credibility has passed out of existence.

For one thing, it has allowed its cronies to malign and destroy some Asian reputations and institutions using its pages where lies had crawled all over, but denying those aggrieved the same opportunity of having their side on the issue at hand to see print in this very same paper, only to be told that such rejection was a management “business decision”.

Distressing events
The events that transpired last week have been the most unsettling, upsetting and stressing for the members of the Filipino expatriate community in Papua New Guinea.

On Tuesday, November 10, Pinoys in Port Moresby and across the country woke up to find themselves in the midst of alleged 16,000 illegal compatriots.

Having read the Post-Courier’s fabricated report that there are “16,000 illegal Filipinos out of the 19,000 who are in the country right now”, they were utterly horrified and in great shock.

A simple arithmetic would immediately show there would only be 3,000 Filipinos living and working legally in the country and they include a few hundreds of those who have acquired PNG citizenship and permanent resident (PR) status. This is not the case, however.

The source of the alleged statistics, according to the Post-Courier, was Philippine Ambassador to PNG, Madam Shirley Ho-Vicario, who, on Friday, November 6, purportedly testified at the Parliamentary Bipartisan Committee probing the anti-Asian riots last May.

In her alleged testimony before a panel chaired by MP Jamie Maxtone-Graham, Madam Ho-Vicario disclosed there are 19,000 Filipinos in PNG and of this, 80 percent, or 16,000, are illegal aliens.

The Maxtone-Graham panel wanted to know what triggered the marginalised Papua New Guineans to go into rioting and looting variety shops and grocery stores owned and operated by Chinese in the Highlands and in Port Moresby.

The locals are said to hate illegal aliens, particularly Asians whose numbers are growing because they feel that they are robbing them of jobs and livelihoods reserved for them under the law.

Flurry of emails
Shortly before noon, a flurry of emails was exchanged among Pinoy expatriates who expressed disbelief that there are 16,000 illegal Filipino workers in the country.

Joey Sena, president of the Filipino Association of PNG (FAPNG), called for sobriety and calm as he urged the members of the community to be vigilant for their own safety against possible physical harm that may arise following the Post-Courier report.

Madam Ho-Vicario said of the story: “This is a pure fabrication! How did the Post-Courier come up with these figures?”

“The Filipino community has been put at risk because of these anti-Asian sentiments, and I, as the representative of the Philippine government here in PNG, have been maligned by the report.

“I’m vehemently denying the report … it’s all fabricated … it has no factual basis … it’s unfounded and far from the truth.

“I demand that the Post-Courier retract the story and print the truth.

“There could never be 19,000 Filipinos living and working here in this country,” the Ambassador said.

“I never appeared on the said committee hearing on that day to give evidence on the anti-Asian riots.

“I was never interviewed on that matter or present at the Bipartisan Parliamentary Inquiry last Friday.

“I never knew who MP Philip Kikala is, I didn’t know how he looked … I just didn’t know him,” Madam Ho-Vicario rattled off.

“I would never be able to recognise him from Adam even if you put him in front of me unless he has his nametag pinned on his chest!”

MP Kikala was the source that provided the Post-Courier the fabricated figures of “19,000 Filipinos in PNG, of which 16,000 are illegal”.

Madam Ho-Vicario said there are only 10,120 expatriates in the country as of June 19. About 670 of them are permanent residents, 6,600 are temporary migrants (work permit and working visa holders) and the rest are holders of tourist visa and business visa.

Story defended
Just before I filed my story on the Ambassador’s denial, I called the Post-Courier’s editor-in-chief, Blaise Nangoi, for comment.

“We stand by our story,” he told me.

Nangoi said the Post-Courier's report was based on information its reporter had obtained from a source (Mr Kikala) that was at the parliamentary committee hearing last November 6 when Madam Ho-Vicario purportedly testified.

Categorically denying this, the Ambassador said: “I was never present at the Parliament last Friday”.

The National, the leading daily in PNG, carried the denial story the next day, Wednesday, November 11, and was headlined: “Philippine Embassy denies “aliens” report.

On that day, Maxtone-Graham sent an official letter to the Ambassador stating categorically "that you never appeared before my inquiry, either in person or through a representative on the date as stated by the Post-Courier. Neither have we received any written submission from your embassy."

MP testified
The paper stubbornly defended its claim on the presence of 16,000 illegal Filipinos. It reported that Kikala testified on a bipartisan committee hearing on Monday, November 9, that the ambassador “informed” him about the 16,000 illegal Filipinos in the country.

Now, it is very clear that the Post-Courier has confused itself in making the report in an effort to steer clear out of further embarrassment.

First, it reported that Madam Ho-Vicario appeared at the hearing on Friday, November 6, where she purportedly testified on the presence of 16,000 illegal Filipinos out of the 19,000 expatriates. But later, it backtracked and admitted that she never did so.

Then, the Post-Courier contradicted itself again when it reported in its November 12 edition that it was now Kikala who had testified at the committee hearing on November 9 when he declared that the ambassador “informed” him of the 16,000 illegal Filipinos.

However, instead of making Kikala’s testimony the main story for the next day, November 10, it was Madam Ho-Vicario’s fabricated appearance and concocted testimony last November 6 that made the headline.

And worse, Kikala was unable to tell the Post-Courier on what occasion did the ambassador divulge to him the derogatory information. Was it during a parliamentary bipartisan hearing? Was it during lunch or dinner? Or was it during a cocktail party?

From whom did Kikala obtain his statistics? Or, did he deliberately cook up some “blockbuster” story to get some attention and pluck himself out of non-revenue obscurity?

It is ironic that while the Ambassador has categorically said she “never knew MP Kikala or ever met him”, the MP insisted on claiming he obtained the information directly from her.

Just before Madam Ho-Vicario was posted in PNG as the Philippine government’s ambassador in February 2007, she was fully aware of the number of Filipinos that her embassy would be representing in the country. She knew too that PNG is a hardship post.

“There’s no way for me to commit the mistake of giving wrong figures pertaining to the number of Pinoys in Port Moresby,” she told me. “I’m not stupid.”

New recruits
Over the years, the number of Filipino expatriates here has played between 8,000 and 10,000, with many of them going home after their contracts expired, but only to be replaced by new recruits.

And the presence of illegal Filipino workers would be one of her concerns because every time they would be in trouble, they would come to the embassy for help. But there were not many, as the ambassador has noted since her posting more than two years ago now.

With very limited resources, the embassy has been dealing with cases involving illegal Filipinos who would come for assistance would be a nagging problem even if there are only a handful of them.

How much more with 16,000? There’s just no sense for her to just dish out statistics just for kicks without creating problems later for the expatriate Filipinos and the embassy itself.

But then, if ever there are 16,000 illegal Filipinos, it should not be a problem for the Philippine Embassy to deal with. It belongs to the PNG Immigration Department.

And if there are that many, how come the PNG Government is never aware of them?

Now, the Filipino community is asking: “What is Kikala’s agenda? Why is he trying to connive with the Post-Courier in maligning Filipinos and foment racist hatred among Papua New Guineans against them? Are they moonlighting as racists?”

Why did the Post-Courier reject a whole-page paid advertorial that the Filipino Association of PNG (FAPNG) was trying to place with the daily for the Monday, November 16, edition?

In this advertorial, the association is asking the Post-Courier to rectify its story and correct the negative impression about the 10,000 Filipino expatriates that has been generated by its irresponsible reporting.

It said: “The Post-Courier report has caused enormous damage to our reputation as peace-loving, law-abiding and charitable residents of the international community in Papua New Guinea.

“Now, we are suddenly concerned over our safety, because erroneous reporting has created animosity among Papua New Guineans who feel marginalised by the present state of affairs in their own country because of enterprising Asians who they feel are robbing them of their livelihood and jobs."

Abridged from Freddie's blog - read the full blog here.

Pictured: Top: The Philippine Ambassador to PNG, Madam Shirley Ho-Vicario. Photo: Freddie Hernandez. Above: Jamie Maxtone-Graham, chair of the controversial bipartisan committee.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Post-Courier's Filipino 'aliens' story condemned as fabrication


FILIPINOS in the capital of Port Moresby and across Papua New Guinea woke up on Tuesday, November 10, to find themselves in the midst of 16,000 "illegal Pinoys".

Well, that is, if you are to believe what the Post-Courier, a second-rate Australian-owned daily newspaper, headlined on that day on the front page: "16,000 aliens", with the subhead, "More than 80 per cent of Filipinos are living illegally in PNG".

And the alleged source of the figures, according to the Post-Courier?

Well, no less than the Philippine Ambassador to PNG, Madam Shirley Ho-Vicario, who has been quoted in the report.

Madam Ho-Vicario, the daily reported, testified last Friday, November 6, at the Parliamentary Bipartisan committee probing the anti-Asian riots that occurred last May, where she purportedly revealed the existence of 19,000 Filipinos in PNG, of which 16,000 are illegal.

The committee wanted to know the reasons that triggered the marginalised Papua New Guinean to go into rioting and to loot variety shops and groceries owned and operated by Chinese in the Highlands and in Port Moresby.

The locals hate illegal aliens, particularly Asians whose numbers in PNG are growing, because they feel that these undocumented expatriates are robbing them of jobs and livelihood reserved for them under the law.

Flurry of emails
Immediately, a flurry of emails crisscrossed the PNG cyberspace, originating from Pinoy expatriates with access to the internet who expressed disbelief that there are 19,000 Filipinos in PNG, of which 16,000 are illegal.

A number have even rebuked the ambassador, calling her "traitor" and "stupid", for making public such highly-sensitive and derogatory information.

One hyper-sensitive Pinoy expat had called the Philippine Embassy with a threat to burn it down "for making the Filipinos look really, really bad in the eyes of the international community".

It couldn't be helped. Most of Pinoys in PNG are employed with valid documents as professionals - accountants, pharmacists, engineers, teachers, IT experts, foresters, miners, managers, administrative officers and others.

And now this damaging news report.

Already, Joey Sena, president of the Filipino Association of PNG (FAPNG), has expressed concern over the safety of his compatriots around the country.

He was quite aware that the recent racist attacks on Asians, particularly the illegal Chinese, and the alleged illegal businesses they operate, could now be directed to PNG Pinoys.

Community warned
But then, he tried to tell the community to remain calm and urged the members to be vigilant of their own personal safety.

That morning when the story broke, Madam Ho-Vicario was already nursing a blood-pressure gone berserk, as she read the Post-Courier, horrified that the newspaper had put words into her mouth.

"How did [the Post-Courier] come up with these figures ?" she asked, as she read and reread the report, while noting that finally, the newspaper got her name right!

"This is pure fabrication!" she said.

Att noon, immediately after arriving at work, I went straight to our library to have a look at the day's editions of PNG's two daily newspapers - The National, the country's leading daily where I work, and the Post-Courier.

Our rival paper's front-page headline "16,000 aliens" quickly grabbed my eyes; and reading through the story, I couldn't believe what I was reading: That our ambassador had spilled the beans before a Parliamentary Bi-partisan committee hearing!

Immediately, however, I doubted the reliability and credibility of the story. You know why?

The night before, at about 7.25pm, I received an email from a long-time colleague working at Post-Courier as a subeditor, asking for the name of the Philippine Ambassador to PNG, and closing his message with: "It's just urgent ." In the newspaper work, it's deadline time at these

Unethical move
"I saw no harm in giving him our ambassador's name, although I was aware that it's quite unethical for a newspaper to ask for some info from a rival newspaper like The National.

Looking at the news story again, it dawned on me one thing: The reporter who had filed the story on the "16,000 aliens" never saw the ambassador at the alleged committee hearing because such hearing where she had purportedly testified on illegal Pinoys never took place.

First of all, how come he failed to know the ambassador's name?

I assumed that when he filed the story on Monday night, he left the name of the Philippine ambassador to PNG blank. So, when the subeditor, who is my colleague, edited the story, he found the ambassador's name missing in the copy, prompting him to get it from his own source: Me.

When I saw her at the embassy that afternoon, "Amba", as we refer to her during informal chats, was fuming, as she berated the Post-Courier reporter who filed the story and the daily paper - Post-Courier - that allowed a rubbish report to go to print.

"Ka Freddie, I need to counter this report as soon as possible." Amba said immediately after we shook hands. "The (Filipino) community has been put at risk because of these anti-Asian sentiments and I, personally, have been maligned by the report."

So what's the real story?

"I'm denying the report. It's all fabricated. It has no factual basis, it's unfounded and far from the truth.

'Print the truth'
"I demand that the Post-Courier retract the story and print the truth."

"There could never be 19,000 Filipinos living and working in this country," Amba said.

"I never appeared on the said committee hearing on that day to give evidence on this matter.

"I was never interviewed on that matter or present at the Bipartisan Parliamentary Inquiry (last Friday).

"I never knew who MP (Philip) Kilala is, how he looks . I just don't know him," Amba said, referring to the source which provided Post-Courier the fabricated figures of "19,000 Filipinos in PNG, of which 16,000 are illegal".

So, what's the real score on PNG Filipinos? I asked her.

According to official figures submitted by the Philippine Embassy in Port Moresby to the Philippine Congress as required of embassies worldwide, there are only 10,120 expatriates in the country as of June 2009.

About 670 of them are permanent residents, 6600 are temporary migrants (work permit holders), and 2850 which are considered "undocumented or irregular" (these are the holders of business visas and tourist visas).

Since I was the one to file the report on Amba's denial of the Post-Courier report, my boss editor reminded me to get the side of Post-Courier. So, I called the editor-in-chief, Blaise Nangoi, on his cell phone.

Getting both sides
Well, it is SOP in this job - getting both sides of the story. But it is something not practised in by the Post-Courier.

"We stand by our story," he told me over the phone.

The editor said their report was based on information their reporter obtained from a source that was at the parliamentary committee hearing when Amba purportedly gave evidence last Friday.

Categorically denying this, the ambassador told me that afternoon that "I was never at the Parliament last Friday".

The denial story that I filed came out the next day, Wednesday, and was headlined: "Philippine Embassy denies 'aliens' report".

On the same day, the chairman of the Parliamentary Bipartisan Committee on Asian-Owned and Operated Businesses in PNG, Jamie Maxton-Graham, Member of Parliament, sent a letter to Amba, stating:
The front page report stated in part that you appeared in person before my inquiry on Friday, November 6, during which you gave evidence that 16,000 out of 19,000 Filipino residents in this country are doing so illegally.

I wish to state categorically THAT YOU NEVER APPEARED [caps mine] before my Inquiry, either in person or through a representative on the date as stated by Post-Courier.

Neither have we received any written submission from your Embassy.
The newspaper report is quite erroneous in that respect.
That night when I phoned the Post-Courier's editor-in-chief to get the side of his paper, he told me: "We will not make any further report on this matter. We stand by our report ."

Good journalism?
Talk about fairness in reporting, of good journalism.

However, in today's edition of the Post-Courier, it published the ambassador's denial of having appeared at the committee hearing, obviously in a desperate effort to wiggle out of the mess.

It finally admitted that it made an error in reporting that she appeared before the committee on Friday, November 6. "She did not attend and make a submission," the Post-Courier said.

However, while it earlier reported that Madam Ho-Vicario actually appeared at the bipartisan committee hearing last Friday where she purportedly disclosed the number of Filipinos in PNG and how many of them are illegal, the Post-Courier has made a turn-about and is now saying in today's report that MP Kikala stated on a bipartisan committee hearing last Monday that the Ambassador "informed" him of the 16,000 illegal Filipinos in the country.

He, however, was unable to tell the Post-Courier on what occasion did the ambassador divulge to him the derogatory information. Was it during a formal parliamentary bipartisan hearing? Was it during lunch or dinner? Was it during a drinking spree?

Or was he just fishing for some "blockbuster" story to get some attention and pluck himself out of obscurity?

Funny, while Amba has categorically said she "never knew MP Kikala or had met him", the (dis)honorable MP is claiming to have obtained the information directly from her.

But whatever this occasion was, it never happened. Madam Ho-Vicario was very clear in saying that "I never knew who MP (Philip) Kikala is, how he looks. I just don't know him".

Risk for Pinoys
So, it's very clear that the paper has conflicted itself while making the report in its own confusion to steer away from the heat.

Well, it is very clear now that the Philippine Embassy could not expect anything fairer from the offending daily, even a follow-up story rectifying the salient points of the report - the alleged 16,000 illegal Filipinos - and reporting the actual number of Filipino expatriates, or getting the ambassador's side of the issue.

To seek redress, the embassy is now consulting with the legal department of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila for advice. It is also contemplating bringing the issue to the PNG Media Council.

True, Amba is bent on suing the newspaper.

Meantime, the Pinoys here are jittery as anti-Asian sentiments rage across PNG.

Thanks Post-Courier for making this hatred a reality now for us Filipinos!

Pictured: The "aliens" front page in the Post-Courier on November 10; Freddie Hernandez.

Thanks to Freddie Hernandez, this article is republished from his Letters from Port Moresby blog. He is a senior journalist on The National.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dictatorships and double standards - Tough on Fiji, soft on Iran

By Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard

ON NOVEMBER 4, protesters gathered outside the gates of the US embassy in Tehran to mark the 30th anniversary of the hostage-taking. There were the usual government-backed "Death to America" protests--celebrating the then-young revolutionaries and their enduring fanaticism.

But there were other protests, too. Nearly six months after the fixed Iranian election brought hundreds of thousands of green-clad Iranian democrats to the streets, a few thousand brave souls gathered to challenge the corrupt Iranian regime. The crowd was smaller than in May, but their hopes were no less audacious. They had organised secretly to stage a protest to tell anyone who would listen that their democratic aspirations had not been snuffed out and that, despite the indifference of world leaders and the violence of the mullahs, they would persevere.

"Death to the Dictator," they shouted in Farsi, words that could get them killed. And in what the Associated Press described as "a new and startling appeal", the protesters spoke directly to the US President: "Obama, Obama," they chanted. "You are either with them or with us."

At least four foreign journalists were detained during the protests, and members of government-backed militias appeared in riot gear beating protesters with heavy clubs and arresting others.

Back at the State Department, spokesman Ian Kelly prepared to open his daily briefing with an unusually harsh condemnation. The United States "deplores" the "unprecedented" actions of an unelected leadership that "have undermined any opportunity for progress toward reengagement and constructive dialogue".

Fiji the target
These would have been the strongest words issued by the Obama administration about the Iranian protests if they had been about the Iranian regime. But they were actually about Fiji. Kelly said absolutely nothing about Iran.
What he was deploring was a decision by "Fiji's de facto government to expel New Zealand's acting head of mission as well as Australia's high commissioner." That last act, according to Kelly, was "unprecedented in that Australia now holds the chairmanship of the Pacific Islands Forum," so "the United States calls for the restoration of Fiji's independent judiciary and the rights to free speech and assembly that are essential to the country's return to democracy."

The burst of toughness left the reporters in the room perplexed.
REPORTER: Exactly what's the U.S. connection there? The government of Fiji expels diplomats from Australia and New Zealand, and you care because--

KELLY: We care because we care about the restoration of democracy in Fiji. Last April, they--the president abolished the constitution--


KELLY: and dismissed all judges and constitutional appointees and imposed emergency rule.

REPORTER: Yeah, that happened. But the operative word being there last when? Operative words? Last--

KELLY: April.

REPORTER: April, okay. And so--

KELLY: I mean, we have an interest in democracy returning to Fiji.

REPORTER: Well, I understand. But what does the expulsion of the diplomats from Australia and New Zealand have to do with the restoration of democracy?

KELLY: It was--we consider it be an unjust act to expel them out of the country.
It's encouraging that the Obama administration can get tough with someone--or someone other than Israel, Wall Street CEOs, and Dick Cheney--even if it's with a nation that boasts the population of Rhode Island and a GDP of $3.5 billion, less than Americans spend annually on cat food. But the Obama administration had no substantive response to the Tehran violence or the silenced protesters' message.

Earlier in the week both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had expressed hope that the Iranian regime would reverse three decades of antagonism and rejoin the community of civilized nations. Clinton, speaking to reporters in Morocco, particularly wished that Iran would accept an offer from the IAEA to ship some of its low-enriched uranium to Russia to show that Iran "does wish to cooperate with the international community and fulfill their international responsibilities".

The White House then sent out a statement commemorating the 30th anniversary of the takeover. It began, delicately, in the passive voice. "Thirty years ago today, the American embassy in Tehran was seized." (It was apparently too provocative to say by whom.)

Courageous hostages
The 444 days that began on November 4, 1979, deeply affected the lives of courageous Americans who were unjustly held hostage, and we owe these Americans and their families our gratitude for their extraordinary service and sacrifice. This event helped set the United States and Iran on a path of sustained suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation. I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.

There are other reasons for the suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation, of course. Iran killed hundreds of US Marines in a terrorist attack in Beirut in 1983. Iran sponsored and trained the terrorists who killed 19 American soldiers at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996. Iran harbored senior al Qaeda leaders in the months after September 11, 2001. It is training, arming, and funding the terrorists fighting US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. And last week Iran was caught red-handed delivering weapons--hundreds of tons of arms--to terrorists.

Mutual respect?

And there are brand new reasons for suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation. In late September, the world learned that Iran had constructed a secret uranium enrichment facility at Qom. In announcing the breach, Obama noted: "This is not the first time that Iran has concealed information about its nuclear program." Yet he went on to affirm his commitment "to serious, meaningful engagement with Iran to address the nuclear issue" through the international community.

Then, late Thursday came a bombshell report in the Guardian: The International Atomic Energy Agency has evidence that the Iranian regime had been working on an advanced design for a nuclear warhead. If perfected, the "two-point implosion" device would allow the Iranians to build smaller bombs with higher yields, which are easier to load and deliver by missile. If Iran's nuclear program were peaceful, as the Iranian government has repeatedly proclaimed (and virtually no one believes), there would be no reason for this kind of work.

The US intelligence community has had this information for weeks, according to several officials. The Senate Select Intelligence Committee was briefed on October 22 and the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee on October 29. The new information strongly suggests that Iran did not suspend its entire nuclear weapons program in 2003 as the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran claims.

End to mistrust
So on two separate occasions in the past two months, Obama publicly called for an end to the "mistrust" between Iran and the United States even as he was privately being presented with fresh intelligence showing that Iran has been lying about its nuclear weapons program and its intentions.

Obama's passivity is beginning to frustrate even members of his own party. Last week, the Senate Banking Committee unanimously passed a measure that would give the president more authority to impose harsh sanctions on Iran's importing of gasoline and other refined petroleum products. "It is clear that an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress now supports the imposition of tough new sanctions on the government of Iran," said Senators Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, and Jon Kyl in a joint statement. The legislation has 76 cosponsors in the Senate, including 38 Democrats. But the White House has not endorsed the measure.

The French are growing impatient, too. A month ago, French president Nicolas Sarkozy chastised Obama for his dithering on Iran. Then last week, in an interview with the New York Times, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner accused the Obama administration of avoiding the hard decisions on Iran. "Our American friends ask us to wait until the end of the year," he said. "It's not us." Kouchner told the Times that the White House wants to give Iran an opportunity for more negotiations. "We're waiting for talks, but where are the talks?"

There is only so much toughness to go around. And the Obama administration prefers to focus on the growing global threat from Frank Bainimarama, Fijian strongman.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. This article has been republished from the Vol 15, Issue 9, edition on November 16.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fiji: What I tell you three times is true

By Patrick Craddock

“THE QUESTION,” said Humpty Dumpty, “ which is to be master – that’s all.” Fiji’s Commodore Bainimarama is the Master, and has been since he took over the country in his coup of December 2006.

But Bainimarama is no fantasy story and his reality is getting more painful for Fiji as he publicly tries to humiliate Fiji-born academic Brij Lal, and Australia and New Zealand. At the same time the former head of Fiji’s land forces Colonel Jone Baledrokadroka tells the media he has applied for a protection visa to stay in Australia, as he would not be welcome back in his own country.

It’s nearly three years since Bainimarama’s coup. Promises were made, in large numbers. The coup had many supporters from all walks of life. Supporters? Perhaps that’s the wrong word - delete "supporters". Let me say that Bainimarama had support from good meaning citizens who wanted a better Fiji. They decided to give their backing to some of the changes the army commander promised: less corruption; respect for the rule of law; respect for the Constitution and an end to official racism.

Alas, the Constitution vanished, as did the aged and manipulated president who had given the army his support. But he left with some honour unlike the legal profession. Judges were sacked, some were reinstated, while others walked away.

Lawyers found their registration for their profession was being placed in the hands of a registrar. They shouted and raved, but to no avail.

Graham Leung, a Fiji lawyer, saw the interim government of Bainimarama leading the profession into a mess.
“The situation has been made worse by the dismissal of the judges and a judiciary which is now even more dysfunctional. More recently, the regime took over the licensing of lawyers, removing the power to grant licenses to practice from the law society to the Registrar of the High Court, an army appointed major.”(1)
Marching orders
Democracy was given its marching orders. It kept moving into the distance until it found the date 2014. Then Bainimarama said: “Stop”. Democracy paused. It is still awaiting a cue to talk.

Ratu Epeli Nailatikau has been made President. That decision used to rest with the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), suspended in April 2007 by Bainimarama. After abrogating the 1997 Constitution he went on to tell the media: “There is no Great Council of Chiefs”.

Traditionally the country’s chiefs, the GCC, had entrenched provisions in the 1997 Constitution with powers to appoint the President and Vice-President. The GCC did not want Ratu Epeli Nailatikau as President. Their powers are now gone and rest with Cabinet.

The army man of choice is in the President’s seat and he is able and willing to tell the country which way to look and act, an example of the military ignoring a huge cultural factor in the history of Fiji which was the power of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC). Even the colonial power understood the need to get chiefly support to maintain stability in Fiji. Bainimarama has walked all over the cultural heritage of the GCC. But, if he cares to think about his action, he can be sure that at this moment there are chiefs throughout all the islands of Fiji who want to see him removed and their power restored.

Democracy requires educated and intelligent civilians. But there are now four colonels in charge of regional administration, where before there were civilians in charge. It begs the question of why the civilians were ousted – were they incompetent or corrupt, or perhaps less pliable than colonels who would obey directives from the chief?

If the coup leader has an agenda for a better Fiji, when and how will it happen? The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) is expressing concern about the role that the Chief Registrar, Ana Rokomokoti, is playing. Harsher critics of the military regime ask on their blog sites, what independent judiciary - where is it?

Loyal wishes
When the army abrogated the Constitution, it dismissed the judiciary. Later, some judges were reinstated. The ever-smooth Attorney-General also spoke about the independence of judges. Aha, say the critics, take the word “independent” and supplement it with the expression “and loyal to the wishes of the army commander.”

The CCF is expressing concern that a Decree gazetted on 20 July 2009 has given superior powers to the Chief Registrar, making that office more powerful than the highest court of Fiji.

It watches the role of the registrar going well beyond its traditional role.
“Any prosecutions by the Chief Registrar would violate the UN Basic Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary and the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct.” (2)
As the legal system faltered, the media was silenced. The reputable big voices of radio, TV and print have been monitored, each by minders. The pressure to stay silent was supposed to be there for only a few weeks, but now many months down the track the voices of media are politically quiet unless they decide to praise the leader and avoid criticism of his failure to deliver on his promises.

'Freedom to report'
In the last few days we have the obscenity of the Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, insulting young student journalists at the University of the South Pacific by telling them that the media have freedom to report on all types of stories provided they are accurate and balanced. He asks:
“Is there a restriction? Are journalists being locked up? Are journalists exactly been told what to write? No”. (3)
Has Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum forgotten what happened to Netani Rika, now editor of the Fiji Times who was taken to the army barracks where he was threatened and intimidated? And what excuse can Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum give when professor Brij Lal, a leading authority on Fiji is picked up from his home by the military. Do they take him to the police station? No. He is interrogated in the army barracks and deported from Fiji the next day. None of this information is placed in the main media, but it is reported on numerous blogsites, dedicated to the coup aftermath. On the same day as Brij Lal is kicked out from Fiji, I access Radio New Zealand International and encounter an amazing statement.

Major Nemani Vuniwaqa says Professor Lal was not expelled.
“Dr Brij Lal was in Fiji on a visitor’s permit and according to our records he had left the country on a flight to Australia. He was not expelled from the country as claimed by him. (4)
Listen to more of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who during the last three years, has used his undoubted ability to prepare slippery reasons why Bainimarama is always in the right.
"The fundamental issue as far as the media control at the moment is concerned is that you do not have politicians being reported. That’s the basic thing.”
Basic freedoms
The “basic thing” is freedom of speech, surely and accuracy. While suppressing and monitoring news, the army media censors ignored a statement published on the website (Fijilive, 23 August 2009) from a Ministry of Housing and Squatter Settlement official, Peni Bakewa, who said at a workshop on housing that at least 40 percent of people living in Fiji’s squatter settlements are capable of buying their own homes.

Father Kevin Barr says it is untrue.
“It was a very irresponsible statement with no basis in research. It was simply a repeat of an old paper produced by the Ministry some years ago based on poor statistics and even poorer analysis. I confronted Peni about his statement and he admitted it was baseless and relied on old rumours within the Department.” (5)
Professor Biman Prasad, an economist at the University of the South Pacific, is calling on the military backed regime to lift the tough censorship on news media or risk growing corruption and a major financial institution collapse. He appealed to Bainimarama, saying his wish to create a “new Fiji” would be thwarted without a free media noting,
“The government’s attempt to stamp out corruption is laudable. However, without a free media, its attempt to do this will be thwarted.” (6)
Echoing a past coup, Biman Prasad said Fiji’s largest financial institution, the Fiji National Provident Fund, was at risk because of management and questionable investments.

He noted that shortly after the coups of 1987 - coups by Sitiveni Rabuka, the National Bank of Fiji collapsed and taxpayers lost F$250 million.
“Corruption flourishes in an environment where the media is curtailed. In addition, the government can have more legitimacy if it allows the media to operate independently. “This would help restore confidence in the country and we could see a faster level of economic growth.” (7)
Prasad mentioned “legitimacy”. Bainimarama would like that. It has evaded him and may do so for a long time, unless more civilians decide to serve in his interim government. But, civilians contemplating working for the interim government are justifiably worried that they may have problems in the future when they find out that they may be on the NZ banned list when they apply for visas. I took that point up with one observer of the Fiji situation. He commented sadly that until New Zealand lifts its travel visa ban on such civilians there would be a stalemate in relations between the two countries. His opinion is that it is up to NZ to make the first move. A fair point? Should civilians working with the interim government be eligible for visas? It could be a move towards developing a democratic regime in Fiji.

People's Charter
But we have to ask questions too about achievements that the interim government has made, or is working towards. During 2008 the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF), worked on the draft of the People’s Charter. Members said they were independent. But Commodore Bainimarama and the Catholic Archbishop co-chaired their main meetings and supplied the NCBBF with government funds. The draft of the People’s Charter is a Fiji version of the Declaration of Human Rights, but with specific recommendations on reducing poverty, resolving land issues, providing more jobs, improved educational opportunities and removing racial provisions from government legislation. It was put together by input from more than 200 people representing numerous factions of society in Fiji. Bainimarama and the Secretariat of the NCBBF acted fairly and these sectors of the community who did not give any input of ideas did so of their own choice. By December 2008 the draft of the Charter was approved. Bainimarama promised to get it up and moving at the earliest opportunity. Now, almost a year later the draft of the People’s Charter has survived the demise of the Constitution and the sticking plaster placed firmly on the mouth of free speech.

The draft of the people’s charter is an achievement, as it sets a guideline for what can be achieved. To call it a blue print is to grace it with more than it contains in content. It is riddled with rhetoric… we believe, we affirm, we reaffirm. But the message is lacking in detail although it set some guidelines, such as making land available for both housing in rural and urban areas with the government playing a key facilitating role.

A keen observer and worker on the progress of housing is Father Kevin Barr. In a presentation in July of this year he said that the Housing Authority (HA) is a commercial enterprise which charges reasonable market rates and seeks to make a profit. According to its mandate, it provides “commercial housing” for those who have incomes between $6500 and $16,500 and can take out loans of $20,000+. With only 17 percent of the workers in Fiji earning over $20,000 the HA has limited impact on developing housing for workers when 50 percent have incomes below $10,000 a year.

Barr asks the relevant question about how land lots and rental land can be made available to those families who live well bellow the $20,000 threshold required of the HA. He notes that there are plans to erect 1560 Public Rental Units and develop 4712 Housing Authority lots by the end of 2013 supported through a low interest loan from the Chinese Exim Bank.

But the poor are still left behind. With only $4 million maximum being provided to housing, and $23 million to tourism, it looks as if the present government lacks any effective policy for housing the poor. Barr says in his article that housing provides social and political stability. Each morning Bainimarama could look at the squatter figures for Fiji, with nearly a 100,000 people living in makeshift homes along the way from his office to the airport at Nausori, a one-hour drive. On resolving housing issues for the poor, the interim government barely seems to have got moving.

The draft of the People’s Charter recommended the setting up of a special council to see the progress of the Peoples Charter. That at least has been accomplished and the National Peoples Charter Advisory Council (NCPAC) is the body to monitor the implementation of the Peoples Charter. The Chairman has said that the NCPAC will receive reports every six months from Permanent Secretaries in all Ministries and Departments. Their next reports are due on his table next month.

Education funding and educational opportunity remains a key issue especially at this time of the year. Scholarship opportunities have been announced. The interim government in its the media releases make no mention of quotas for ethnic groups and states that ability will be the key part of criteria. For that decision many poor but able students will be grateful.

Educational drain
From outside Fiji it looks as if educational money is going down the drain. Fiji now has three universities for a population that is under one million people. There is the University of the South Pacific, which various Fiji ministers have tried to control and failed, as it belongs to the wider region of Pacific countries and gets most of its money from overseas countries, including Australia and New Zealand. The second, the University of Fiji gets much of its money from its the sponsor, the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, a body that has operated in the country for 100 years and has supported the provision of primary and secondary education. In its five-year development phase, it estimated that around $10 million is needed to develop the basic university facilities.

Now, we have a third. In November 2009 cabinet approved the Fiji National University Decree to establish the Fiji National University (FNU) to open next year, 2010. It will consist of six state-owned institutions: Fiji Institute of Technology (FIT), Fiji School of Medicine (FSM), Fiji School of Nursing (FSN), Lautoka Teachers’ College (LTC), the Fiji College of Advanced Education (FCAE) and the Fiji College of Agriculture (FCA). It has not been made clear, but you can bet your last Fiji dollar that government will take good care of the finances of this organisation and control it too. But just what advantages are to be gained from joining these six institutions together and calling it a university. There will be costs. University number two said it requires around $10 million over the next five years. What will university number three cost?

The government already loads most of the education onto organisations other than itself. A report on education produced by its London Office of the Fiji High Commission observes that:
“Government operates only 2 percent of the primary schools, 8 percent of the secondary schools, 8 percent of vocational and technical education schools, and 2 out of the 5 teacher training institutions. The government realises that for ongoing economic development, the country needs an educated and skilled workforce.” (8)
Exactly. Fiji needs young people with good education and numerous skills. So why are there no penetrating questions being asked in the media by journalists about where a third university fits into the education system? Surely there is need for more and better primary and secondary education to benefit the nation than establishing a third university.

We come back to the media being gagged and intimidated. This is Sophie Foster associate editor of the Fiji Times, talking at the annual University of the South Pacific journalism awards on 28 November 2008:
“We live in a time when the media industry is under increasing attack on several fronts – we exist in a time of rapid changes in technology which are reshaping the revenue streams of those in the industry; we have had four coups in the last two decades – and this has placed direct pressure on the way we operate; we have a high migration rate which includes highly trained journalists and the skills they offer; we have also over the past two years seen journalists and other news staff personally threatened while doing the job that members of the public expect them to do.” (9)
One man in Suva, holding numerous government posts wants to lead the way. As I write this, Commodore Bainimarama has once again attacked both Australia and New Zealand through its diplomats. He is: Prime Minister and Minister for Public Service; People's Charter for Change; Minister for Information and Archives; Minister for Finance and National Planning and Sugar; Minister for Provincial Development, Indigenous and Multi-Ethnic Affairs.

Except for one, all coups in Fiji have been conducted by the military and one of their unfortunate achievements is to ensure that every year since 1987 one percent more of the population moves into the slums of poverty. And it’s getting worse. You doubt it, Commodore?

Ask Wadan Narsey. He is a critic, but his homework or research is thorough. In his lecture he says
“…the incidence of poverty in Fiji has probably increased from the 35 percent it was in 2002-03 to more than 45 percent today.” (10)
The interim Attorney-General said recently over Radio Fiji that the fundamental issue with media control at the moment was that politicians were not being reported. Ironically, Sophie Foster would agree with him,
“There is no doubt that the media industry is facing a tremendous challenge trying to defend the right of people to freedom of expression. "Even as I speak, that challenge continues, as a group of civil servants systematically attempts to erase any trace of “dissent” or “disaffection” in the media. They arrive after 6pm and leave somewhere around 10pm. In between that time, they shred to pieces our intrinsic right to freedom of expression.”(11)
I am sure the media of Fiji, would be happy to question in depth the man who is Prime Minister and Minister for Public Service; People’s Charter for Change; Minister for Information and Archives; Minister for Finance and National Planning and Sugar; Minister for Provincial Development, Indigenous and Multi-Ethnic Affairs so they can freely report without censorship, to analyse and quote both the multi-minister and his critics on the state of the Fiji nation three years on from 2006.

Patrick Craddock worked in Fiji for more than 12 years at the University of the South Pacific in Suva in using radio for education and lecturing in broadcast journalism. During 2008 he prepared radio programmes in Hindi, Fijian and English for the National Council for Building a Better Fiji explaining the draft content of the People’s Charter for Peace, Change, Progress and Prosperity.

1 Remarks by Graham Leung in paper for the Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress, Sheraton, Denarau, Nadi, 12 June 2009
2 Media Release. CCF, 28 October 2009
3 Radio Fiji. Interview, 30 October 2009
4 Radio New Zealand International News, 5 November 2009
5 Email interview, P. Craddock 8 September 2009
6 Pacific Media Watch Nius, 17 October 2009
7 Pacific Media Watch Nius, 17 October 2009
8 Paper on Education (undated). High Commission of the Republic of the Fiji Islands, London
9 Sophie Foster. Presentation at USP, Suva. 28 November 2008
10 The Rev. Paula Niukula Lecture, 5 April 2009. Marine Studies Lecture Theatre, USP. (Rev Niukula died on 21 April 1996.
11 Fiji Women’s Rights Movement. Speech at Emerging Leaders Graduation, 28 May 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

PFF makes a blue with the Fiji regime's propaganda

MEDIA lobby group Pacific Freedom Forum shot itself in the foot this week with an over-the-top media release shorn of its usual measured tone. Aghast at the Fiji Attorney-General being given an “unchallenged” platform at the University of the South Pacific’s regional journalism programme to peddle the regime’s usual spin, the PFF fired off a media missile claiming that Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum had “erased his own credibility with ‘delusional’ notions that Fiji has a free media”. What’s new?

The tone of this media release was along the lines of let’s fight censorship with censorship. In fact, the PFF itself lost some credibility with this latest release. The backroom scribes need to brush up on their Voltaire.

Also, there was a touch of disinformation in the release as well while praising the Fiji Times' “award-winning free speech campaign as announced on Friday night in Australia”. Café Pacific points out that this was an in-house award by Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd group (he was even there for the occasion). This was not disclosed by PFF.

Also, it is interesting to see that PFF has little to say about the strategies of the two other Fiji dailies, the Fiji Sun and Daily Post – both very different from the Fiji Times, and some would say more focused on rebuilding the Fiji of tomorrow than playing the pathetic Australian and NZ interventionists’ card. Well, of course – the FT group is Australian owned.

A former Fiji Daily Post publisher, Ranjit Singh, who holds rather pungent views on the Fiji news media noted - while sarcastically commenting on the “prestigious award”:
The question that has been bugging me, and I suppose other like-thinking people, is this: Had the Fiji media been more responsible, more impartial, more balanced, more ‘outrageous’ [whatever he means by this] and more questioning in raising the issues of poor governance practised by Laisenia Qarase and his SDL government, would we have been able to avert the December 2006 takeover by Bainimarama?
Probably not. But that still doesn’t soften the case for a more balanced media. The recent publication of the "media and democracy" edition of Fijian Studies, the journal published by the Fiji Institute of Technology director Dr Ganesh Chand, canvassed many of the issues of media balance and quality over two decades of coup culture and poses fundamental questions of what has been learned by the media during that period. (The edition was edited by two USP staff - economics professor Biman Prasad and head of journalism Shailendra Singh). Some 26 contributors with wide-ranging research and views (including a senior Fiji Times staffer) provided in-depth fodder for the debate. Many journalists were on hand for the launch. Yet the Fiji media picked up on virtually none of it.

This volume, in fact, lays bare the Fiji media’s shortcomings – and strengths, but also contains much of the ammunition needed to challenge the AG’s rigid regime view of the news industry.

Café Pacific reckons Khaiyum’s host for the seminar, USP journalism, should take a bow for the activities it has been promoting in spite of Fiji's climate of censorship and self-censorship. The news on the ground was that some gutsy questions were asked by several of the student journalists – and also other media people present – but Pacific Scoop’s reporter on the spot, Nanise Nawalowao, didn't pick up on some of these in her story. According to staff:
Unfortunately, the AG seminar was confirmed just two days before the event and we did not have time for the best briefing with students. We are always training and urging students to challenge speakers.
An important point that commentators often naively overlook is that university students are just making a career start – they haven’t been around the traps like them. Students are often 10 to 20 years younger and nowhere near as experienced or mature as they may be. Pacific Islanders are often reluctant to question those in authority. It is often a reality in the Pacific media industry - and many a news conference.

But at least USP is actually engaging with all sides and trying to build up some balanced expertise among tomorrow’s journos. The university’s journalism programme has organised several seminars this year - and many over the years - including during the launch of Fijian Studies and one by this year’s PINA media award winners from Port Vila.

In just a few weeks, USP has staged three seminars on the media in spite of state censorship.

USP journalism has been more actively drumming up media debates than any other organisation - not just this year, but over the years. In fact, there has been more public discussion about the media in Fiji than in any other Pacific country, largely due to USP journalism efforts – even under the shadow of a coup.

A challenge lies there for other media sectors and Pacific journalists.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Suai massacre accused slips out of East Timor across border

SO it's finally official: After weeks of accusations and denials that one of the most wanted men for crimes against humanity in East Timor has been smuggled out of the country, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry has finally come clean. Maternus Bere, the former militia leader accused of a massacre of dozens of women, children and priests in a church at Suai a decade ago is now safely back in Indonesia.

According to an Associated Press report, Bere arrived in Indonesia on Friday and was taken to a hospital with undisclosed health problems, said ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah. He faces no charges in Indonesia and will be a free man after treatment:
An Indonesian national, Bere was indicted by UN prosecutors in 2003 on charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, persecution, forced disappearances, torture, extermination and abduction.

More than 1000 people were killed by pro-Indonesian militias when East Timor voted to break from Indonesia in 1999, but more than 300 suspects remain at large, most of them in Indonesia.

Leaders from both countries oppose criminal trials so human rights activists have called for the establishment of a UN tribunal.

Bere was recognised during a visit to Suai, the town where the massacre took place in September 1999, and was arrested by Timorese police in early August.

He was handed over to the Indonesian Embassy at Jakarta's
insistence after negotiations between the two governments on August 30, the 10th anniversary of East Timor's vote to become an independent state.
The hypocrisy, particularly by the current administration led by Gusmao Xanana, a former resistance leader against the Indonesians, over the treatment of Bere and other accused has frustrated and angered many human rights advocates.

Pictured: Former pro-Indonesian militia leader Maternus Bere, c. 1999. Source: Tempo Semanal

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