Rick Rycroft/AP
Fiji’s military commander, Frank

Pacific Nations Consider Punishing Fiji’s Military Government

January 26, 2009 01:32 PM
by Emily Coakley
This week’s Pacific Islands Forum meeting will again include a discussion of how to deal with Fiji, which has been under military rule since 2006.

Forum Members At Odds Over Fiji Question

Leaders from several South Pacific nations, troubled by Fiji’s lack of democratic rule, are trying to decide how to punish the country. Australia and New Zealand want the country kicked out of the Pacific Islands Forum, but other members say that’s too far.

“We don’t want to see Fiji being kicked out of the Commonwealth or out of PIF,” the International Herald Tribune quoted Sir Michael Somare, Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, as saying.

If the 16-member forum decides to suspend Fiji it will be the first time the group has punished any of its members in such a way in its more than three decades.

Frank Bainimarama, the leader of the 2006 military coup and the head of Fiji’s government since then, is not attending the forum meeting, but a government representative will.

Meanwhile, the Fijian government has expelled a newspaper publisher from the country for the third time in a year. According to the Fiji Times, its publisher, Rex Gardner, was ordered out of the country after the Times was found to be in contempt of court. In October, the Fiji Times published a letter the judge deemed “scandalous.” The letter concerned a court case in which ousted prime minister Laisenia Qarase challenged the 2006 coup. The court validated the takeover, but the ruling was appealed. It will be heard in April, the Fiji Times reports.

The paper also quoted Judge Thomas Hickie, who said that people should not comment on the Qarase vs. Bainimarama case.

“Media reports should concentrate solely on the proceedings as they take place each day. As to what should be the outcome, that is a matter for the judges hearing the case to decide, not to be pressured by the parties, lawyers, the media, politicians, academics or ‘ravings of a ratbag’ by way of opinion column, letters to the editor, on talkback radio, on television or on websites.”

Penalties “for contempt in this form can be severe,” Hickie added in a Times story published on Friday.

Previous newspaper publishers were deported for being a security threat and for publishing controversial articles, the Australian reported.

Background: Political turmoil in Fiji

Fiji is a small country of approximately 900,000 people, who live on about 100 of the 332 islands that make up the South Pacific country. It was a British colony until 1970, when it achieved independence and formed a democratic government that operated for nearly 20 years. The country had two coups in 1987, an attempted coup in 2000, and finally the 2006 coup in which the military took over.

Opinion & Analysis: Inaction could embarrass forum; lying to members

John Armstrong writes in New Zealand’s Otago Daily Times that Bainimarama’s decision to stay away from the forum amounts to a “snub.”

“No-one is treating Mr Bainimarama’s reason for not going to Port Moresby—that the death and devastation caused by recent floods require he stay at home—at face value.”

Armstrong says it’s essential for the PIF to discipline Fiji. “If forum leaders defer a decision on suspension, the 37-year-old regional grouping will be a laughing stock.”

On the blog Intelligentsiya, a blogger known as “Keep the Faith” predicts that the island’s attorney general, in talking to the PIF this week, would talk about the court legitimizing the coup, “and the so-called ‘acceptance’ of 90-something percent of the populace of the Charter. In other words, more Lies to the PIF Leaders.”

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines