Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fiji: deporting the media

on Sunday night, Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter was abducted from his Suva home by immigration officials, detained overnight, and summarily deported (in violation of a court order prohibiting his deportation). His crime? Publishing a series of stories accusing a Minister of Fiji's military regime of massive tax evasion. This was deemed "prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, security and stability of the sovereign state of the Fiji Islands", and so he was deported.

Unfortunately, the stories are not online, and the Fiji Sun's archives leave a lot to be desired. But you can get a good grasp of the issue from the rival Fiji Times. It seems former Prime Minister and current interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry has been a very bad boy, systematically evading taxes for a number of years and receiving questionable payments to overseas accounts. Staff within the Fiji Islands Revenue and Customs Authority had been investigating this for some time, but were suspended after informing the interim regime of their concerns. The investigation was then buried, and its clear from FIRCA's response that they are now more interested in covering up for their Minister than in enforcing the law.

It's a very bad look for a regime which used corruption as its justification for seizing power, and in a democracy governed by the rule of law Chaudhry would already be out on his arse and facing prosecution. But Fiji isn't a democracy any more, and (as Russell Hunter noted) under Bainimarama the law "is what certain people say it is on any given day". And if they decide that holding their regime to account is a security threat justifying deportation (or worse), then there's precious little anyone can do about it, other than wait for elections which may never come.