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Government must stop attacks on media, says PFF

(PFF/IFEX) - The continuing silence and lack of progress into attacks of Vanuatu reporters by known assailants is hammering at the credibility of the Vanuatu government, says regional media freedom watchdog, the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF).

In February 2009 the online network of Pacific journalists and supporters of a free press issued a statement on brutal attacks on the "Daily Post" publisher Marc Neil-Jones. His assailants were Corrective Services officers angered by newspaper coverage of the state of the prison service. Just days later, a second statement was issued over the public bashing of "Daily Post" freelancer Esther Tinning, as she escorted her children to school. Tinning, who was four months pregnant at the time, suffered a miscarriage as a result of the attack. In both cases, the attackers were known, but to date no one has been charged despite complaints being laid by Neil-Jones and Tinning.

"The fact that Transparency International's Vanuatu office, led by the former Ombudsman of Vanuatu, has now had to make its own enquiries and uncovered the absolute lack of any action or investigation into these assaults is a shocking wake-up call to the Vanuatu government that it needs to step in and ensure justice is done," says PFF co-chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea.

"If the government is serious about welcoming the leading media gathering of Pacific journalists to its doorsteps next month, it needs to take urgent action on the complaints laid – some of them involving the very officers who should be enforcing the law," says Laumaea.

"Pacific journalists and development partners are going through a phase of renewal and self-examination on the role of a free and independent media for a better Pacific. A stronger push from government to remove the ominous blocks stopping assailants from being charged would also remove doubts over governance, human rights and the rule of law for Vanuatu," he says.

PFF co-chair Monica Miller says PFF supports Transparency Vanuatu's stance that "journalists such as Neil Jones and Tinning are claiming their basic rights under the Vanuatu justice system, no more and no less. The fact they are journalists should not stand in the way of them exercising those rights."

"Five months of silence have passed since an official complaint was first laid with police in Vanuatu. The Pacific Freedom Forum commits to repeating the questions we have raised here, each and every month this tragic farce continues," she says.

"We have here a situation where law enforcers entrusted with protecting the people of Vanuatu are in serious breach of their job descriptions, and the faith of the public in a police uniform. The fact that they continue to fail in their jobs while remaining on full pay on the public payroll is fraudulent and taints the entire force, right through to the ministers and leaders of Vanuatu."

Charge d'Affaires of the European Commission to Vanuatu, Nicolas Berlanga Martinez has previously stated that, "If the use of violence is always an attack against human dignity, violence against a media representative targets a fundamental pillar of democracy - the access of citizens to information."

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