Sunday, March 02, 2008

US warns Bainimarama

Saturday, March 01, 2008 -

A UNITED States diplomat has told interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama (left) of the significance of media freedom and how it reflects a democratic society.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific Glyn Davies said he relayed the same message to interim Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau and interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry in meetings he held with them.

His comments follow the recent deportation of Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter by the interim regime earlier this week.

"The point I made was that freedom of the press was important. It's not a positive step to try to limit the freedom of the press," Mr Davis said.

"I don't think you can export dissent. I don't think you can banish free expression of the opinion. I don't think you can set limits on the press.

"I think that becomes a slippery slope for the Government to try to do. This was the point I made with everybody I met with.

"I was here last year after the coup-de-tat, when people were bring brought up to the barracks, some military were visiting press room editorial staff around Suva.

"But I come back 10 months later I would have thought there would have been some progress on that. Instead what we find is quite the opposite. I made that point to the commodore," he said.

He said the incident surrounding Mr Hunter's arrest from his home on Monday night was dramatic.

"What if that happened to me? That's frightening stuff. I don't understand why that happened. I hope it doesn't mean we're back in the days where we have an intimidated press. I hope the interim Government has something to say to why they did that.

"What I'll report back to Washington would be some of the worrisome signs that I saw because of the time of my visit.

"Here I am getting the impression that this is getting personal," Mr Davies said.

He said the atmosphere around Fiji's political and economic development since his last visit was not tremendously encouraging.

"The mood that I sense that's the thing I'm going to report back to Washington.

"I didn't get a response that justified a knock in the middle of the night a man taken even without a tooth brush on a plane and sent on a four hour flight while his family sits there waiting to find out what's going on," Mr Davies said.

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