Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the military-led provisional government’s arrest and expulsion today of Russell Hunter, the publisher of the Fiji Sun daily newspaper. An Australian citizen, Hunter has been banned from returning to Fiji.
“Hunter’s expulsion is unacceptable and contrary to all of the Fiji government’s international undertakings,” the press freedom organisation said. “This arbitrary decision deprives the Fiji Sun of its publisher and managing editor and sends a disturbing signal to other Fijian journalists thinking of publishing information that could upset the authorities. We call on the prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, to reverse this decision and to allow Hunter to resume working in Fiji”.
Reporters Without Borders added: “The good intentions towards the privately-owned media professed by Bainimarama and other senior officials have lost all credibility after Hunter’s expulsion”.
Aged 59 and the former editor of the Fiji Times daily, Hunter was arrested yesterday evening at his home in the capital, Suva, by immigration officials, who escorted him to Nadi international airport (250 km west of the capital) and put him on a flight to Sydney this morning.
The government said in a statement today that Hunter had violated immigration laws by “conducting himself in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, security and stability of the sovereign state of the Fiji Islands”.
On his arrival in Sydney, Hunter said he was expelled because of stories in Fiji Sun alleging that finance minister Mahendra Chaudhry (a former prime minister) was involved in tax evasion. “We were expecting it”, Hunter said.
Both the Australian and New Zealand government’s have condemned the expulsion of Hunter, who had a work permit that was valid until August 2009. The Fijian immigration department has given his wife, Martha Waradin, three weeks to leave the country together with their 13-year-old daughter.