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Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 13:57 UK

Fiji deports Australian publisher

Frank Bainimarama, file image
Military leader Frank Bainimarama has been criticised over his rights record

An Australian newspaper publisher has been deported from Fiji, in what critics of the military government are labelling an attack on free speech.

The government said it acted against Fiji Times boss Ewan Hannah because he was "breaching national security".

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said it was a "reprehensible act" which continued the pattern of "severe erosion of human rights" in Fiji.

The move comes months after Fiji expelled another Australian journalist.

Fiji's government, which came to power in a coup in 2006, has been widely criticised by rights groups and governments in the region.

The deportation of Mr Hannah came a day after interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who led the 2006 coup, launched a blistering attack on the island-nation's media.

"Over the past year some media reporting has left much to be desired and some reports have been careless [and] irresponsible," the Fijilive website quoted him as saying.

"Some [reports] have been inciteful and destabilising, posing a threat to national security and stability."

Later, national security and immigration minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau said in a statement: "Based on credible evidence and advice furnished to me, Mr Hannah's actions were breaching national security of the country.

"Mr Hannah was previously cautioned of the implications of his actions. He, however, chose to ignore this."

'Sorry milestone'

Mr Hannah was taken from his home in the capital Suva by immigration officials and put on a flight to the South Korean capital, Seoul.

The US embassy in Suva said the deportation raised "serious questions about its respect for freedom of the press", and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said it was an attempt to "muzzle the media".

Fiji's press was highly critical of the move, with Fiji Times editor Netani Rika saying it was part of a campaign of harassment.

"They are going to continue to intimidate us. I don't see them stopping, given they've gone this far," he told Australian radio.

The Fiji Sun, whose Australian publisher Russell Hunter was arrested and deported in February, was similarly scathing.

In an editorial, the newspaper said the deportation "marks yet another sorry milestone on the interim government's road to disgrace".

It added that the military government wanted nothing short of "total control over what the people of Fiji are permitted to know and even discuss publicly".


SEE ALSO
Country profile: Fiji
23 Jan 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Fiji
23 Jan 08 |  Country profiles

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