Wed, Apr 15, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Fijian military has country ‘under the thumb’: journalist

BEING WATCHED: The media are not allowed to carry news critical of the government, and police have been stationed in newsrooms to vet stories

AFP , SYDNEY

Fiji is under total military control as coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama cracks down after a court ruled his position was illegal, a deported Australian journalist said yesterday.

“There is an incredible amount of intimidation going on there at the moment,” veteran Australian Broadcasting Corporation correspondent Sean Dorney told reporters on arrival in Sydney.

The latest bout of political turmoil began on Thursday when the Court of Appeal ruled that military chief Bainimarama had been in power illegally since a 2006 coup.

In response, aging and ailing Fijian President Josefa Iloilo sacked the judiciary, abrogated the Constitution and reappointed Bainimarama and his Cabinet for five years.

“Under these regulations there’s no judges, so you can’t contest anything, you can’t take anything to court,” Dorney said. “It’s total military control at the moment.”

“There’s no disturbances in the street, there’s no carry on, the military really has the country under the thumb,” he said.

While the military has effectively been in power since Bainimarama’s coup, he took the title of interim prime minister and promised elections this year — which have now been put off until 2014.

Dorney was told he was being deported because “they were unhappy with my reporting.”

Two journalists from New Zealand were also deported, while a Fiji Television journalist was taken in for questioning after footage of Dorney’s deportation was transmitted overseas.

New Zealand television journalist Sia Aston and cameraman Matt Smith arrived in Auckland on Monday.

Under a 30-day state of emergency, the media in Fiji are not allowed to carry stories critical of the government, with police and information ministry officers placed in newsrooms to vet stories.

Local media have been threatened with being shut down if they breach the regulations.

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