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Publisher's deportation linked to report on government minister's alleged tax evasion; PM warns media of limitations to constitutional guarantees on press freedom

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 27 February 2008 IFJ media release:

IFJ Denounces Fiji's Deportation of Newspaper Publisher

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the Government of Fiji's deportation of a newspaper publisher and managing director, Russell Hunter, to Australia on February 26 after his paper published stories highlighting allegations of tax evasion by a government minister.

Hunter was at home in Suva on the night of February 25 when government officials arrived with a document citing his deportation. He was held overnight before being forced onto a flight to Sydney, without being given the opportunity to notify his family.

Hunter, an Australian citizen, was reportedly denied consular access and legal advice. Fiji's authorities did not advise the Australian Government of the deportation. It is understood Hunter's work visa had 18 months to run.

Fiji's Government issued a statement saying Hunter was a "prohibited immigrant" and was deported because he had contravened the conditions of his work permit and his conduct threatened national security.

The action followed publication in Hunter's paper, the Fiji Sun, of allegations of tax evasion by a government minister, since named as finance minister Mahendra Chaudhry, a former prime minister.

Fiji's interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said in a press statement that "media freedom is secure and guaranteed". He warned the media, however, that it must recognise there are limitations to constitutional guarantees on freedom of the press.

In a nationally televised speech on February 24, Bainimarama accused journalists in Fiji of being unethical. He singled out The Fiji Sun and Fiji Television, especially noting their reports about the tax evasion allegations against Chaudhry.

The IFJ is deeply concerned by the actions of authorities in Fiji and the negative repercussions for media rights and freedom of expression in the country.

"The arbitrary deportation of Russell Hunter points to an atmosphere of censorship and a negative government attitude toward freedom of expression and the rights of media. The action creates an environment in which journalists may be inclined to self-censor, thus curtailing freedom of expression in Fiji," said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

The IFJ calls on the Bainimarama Government to reverse the deportation order against Hunter and show a genuine commitment to respect and uphold the right of journalists to report freely and fairly, without threat or risk of persecution.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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