Fiji newspaper hit hard for printing NZ story

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 16:55 20/02/2013

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Fiji's main daily paper has been fined F$300,000 (NZ$201,000) and its editor jailed for six months for reprinting a New Zealand Sunday Star-Times story which said there were no independent courts in the military ruled nation.

In the 2011 story, Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) general secretary Tai Nicholas, 44, commented on legal issues involving Fiji football.

"You should be aware that with no judiciary there," he said, referring to another case, and added "it is not a court per se."

Fiji's military appointed attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, ordered prosecutions against the Fiji Times and Nicholas.

Nicholas last week was convicted in absentia and fined F$15,000 for contempt of court.

High Court Judge William Calanchini in a written judgement on Nicholas said his quotes were "a scurrilous attack on the members of the judiciary, thereby lowering the authority of the judiciary and the court".

Fijivillage's website reports that Calanchini convicted the Fiji Times Ltd, its editor Fred Wesley and former publisher Brian O'Flaherty.

The Fiji Times, the country's largest circulation newspaper, has been fined F$300,000 and which must be paid within 21 days. 

Wesley has been sentenced to six months imprisonment suspended for two years. 

O'Flaherty has been fined F$10,000.

There has been no comment from the newspaper.

Formerly owned by New Corp's Rupert Murdoch, it was forcibly sold after military coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama ordered an end to foreign ownership.

Within Fiji's media industry it is expected that this heavy fine will knock the publication out of business.

An Australian, Calanchini was, following the 2000 George Speight coup, appointed the Fiji Military Forces' prosecutor for soldiers who mutinied against their commander, Bainimarama.

He controls all appointments in his regime, including that of the current president, Epeli Nailatikau.

Bainimarama, who overthrew the democratic government in 2006, claims the court system is independent because Nailatikau nominally makes appointments to the bench.

In April 2009 the then independent Fiji Court of Appeal ruled that Bainimarama's coup three years earlier was illegal.

In reaction Bainimarama abolished the constitution and dismissed all judges and with a military decree created a new court system. International authorities, including the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the Pacific Forum, have said Fiji's court system is not independent.

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