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Regime intimidation of journalists continues

(PFF/IFEX) - Rarotonga, Cook Islands - The continued campaign of fear and intimidation against journalists in Fiji has been denounced by regional media monitoring network the Pacific Freedom Forum, after the detention of a Fiji Times journalist for his investigative business reporting.

Felix Chaudhary, 41, a journalist for the Fiji Times in Lautoka, was taken in by military officers on 18 February 2011, while covering a public function where regime leader Frank Bainimarama was also present.

During his one-hour detention he was told the regime was not happy with the stories that had been appearing under his byline on the sugar and aviation industries in Fiji.

"PFF understands Chaudhary was released physically unharmed but we are in no doubt that he was subjected to intimidation and threats which will have an impact on his ability to freely report on his areas of expertise and interest as a journalist," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea.

"We condemn the continued use of the Public Emergency Regulations allowing the military to arbitrarily detain and question a select group of civilians who are merely doing their jobs as journalists, and especially abhor the abuse of human rights and the rule of law when it comes to detaining people in such a manner."

Chaudhary is the first known detainee in 2011, but this continues an ongoing trend of regime detentions since April 2009, of those journalists whose reportage leaves the regime "unhappy". The PER was to have been replaced by a new enforcement body for "media responsiblity" - the regime-appointed Media Industry Development Authority, MIDA.

"The Pacific Freedom Forum repeats its call on Fiji's leadership to honour its own promise to withdraw the PER, now that the new media authority members have begun their work in earnest. We can only look forward to the day when industry values and ethics are upheld by all editors and journalists as the core standard for self-regulation,"
says Laumaea.

"We stand in solidarity with our Fiji colleagues who maintain media ethics and codes of journalism under extreme duress, despite threats to their safety and the well-being of their families," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller of American Samoa.

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