By Malakai Veisamasama, Reuters
SUVA — Fiji’s military government deported the Australian publisher of Rupert Murdoch’s Fiji Times newspaper on Friday, after declaring him a threat to national security.
The move is the latest crackdown on the media in Fiji since military commander Frank Bainimarama seized power in a bloodless coup in late 2006, and comes amid growing international criticism of the slow progress in returning the island chain to democracy.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Evan Hannah’s deportation was “a reprehensible attack by the illegal Fiji interim government on human rights and freedom of speech”.
Hannah was escorted by a soldier onto a Korean Airline flight to Seoul, despite a court order that he attend an appeal hearing against the deportation order, the newspaper said.
The Fiji government issued a statement on Friday saying Hannah acted in “a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, security or good governance of the Fiji Islands”.
National Security and Immigration Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau said he wanted to explain Hannah’s offenses, but his statement failed to mention any specific offenses.
“The security interests of the Sovereign State of Fiji at this point in time are of paramount importance. Mr. Hannah was previously cautioned of the implications of his actions. He, however, chose to ignore this,” said Ganilau.
Fiji Times Editor Netani Rika said Fijian journalists have been harassed by the government for 18 months and that the latest deportation was part of a campaign to silence media criticism.
“Our people have been under constant threat and intimidation for the last 18 months. Mr Hannah is not the first journalist to be removed from his home,” Rika told Australian radio.
“All I can think of right now, that it is an attempt to intimidate the media, yes,” he said.
The deportation comes after another Australian, Russell Hunter, publisher of the rival Fiji Sun newspaper, was deported in February for criticising Bainimarama’s government.