FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
13 July 2011
Savea Sano Malifa
PasiMA protests over ill-treatment of Vanuatu newspaper publisher Marc Neil-Jones
“The [Vanuatu] Public Prosecutor’s handling of this matter is exceptionally appalling, demeaning, and demonstrates a blatant disregard of human decency and natural justice.”
APIA, SAMOA –The chairman of Pasifika Media Association (PasiMA) has written a letter of protest to Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman regarding the Vanuatu government’s handling of the brutal beating of Vanuatu Daily Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones by government minister Harry Iauko. To date, there has been no reply from Prime Minister Kilman. The full text of the letter follows.
8 July 2011
The Honorable Sato Kilman, Prime Minister
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Government of Vanuatu
Port Vila, Vanuatu
The board and members of the Pasifika Media Association (PasiMA) are shocked and deeply concerned over the apparent ill-treatment by your government of the publisher of the Vanuatu Daily Post, Marc Neil-Jones.
In March this year, your government’s Minister of Public Utilities, Harry Iauko, went inside the office of the Daily Post with eight men, whom he then ordered to bash up Mr. Neil-Jones.
As his “thugs” were assaulting the publisher, Mr. Iauko himself stood by and watched, and then apparently satisfied, he ordered the men to stop, and they left.
Later, battered and bleeding, Mr. Neil-Jones lodged a complaint with the authorities.
This week when the matter was heard before Public Prosecutor, Ms. Kayleen Tavoa – who is herself implicated in this matter – denied legal representation for Mr. Neil-Jones, and in the end found Minister Iauko guilty of “aiding and abetting,” and fined him an insignificant 15,000 Vatu ($US150.)
Your Excellency, with respect, we cannot hesitate to let you know that in our view, the Public Prosecutor’s handling of this matter is exceptionally appalling, demeaning, and demonstrates a blatant disregard of human decency and natural justice.
Although we applaud your stand at the beginning in insisting that the matter should proceed to a court of law, we had hoped it would be heard by an independent and higher tribunal, preferably the Supreme Court.
This, however, was not to be the case.
Your Excellency, we believe that a Minister of State who uses the power of his government, entrusted to him by the people to serve the country, to intentionally and premeditatedly cause injury to defenseless members of the public has no right being a minister of your Cabinet.
He should be locked up in jail instead.
The statements made by Deputy Prime Minister Ham Lini were shocking as well. He said, as quoted by Radio New Zealand, that “It’s because of the media that this has been made a big issue. It’s still better than killing someone.”
Are we to think, then, that because Mr. Neil-Jones was not killed, that your government views this vicious and vile attack as an unimportant event?
Let us remind you that as the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vanuatu, you would have declared to publicly uphold the principles of free speech and media freedom as guaranteed by your country’s constitution, when you took office.
And indeed, you would have also publicly promised that your government would commit itself to preserving that very freedom.
Your Excellency, PasiMA is the professional association of Pasifika’s independent media owners, operators and principals, dedicated to upholding the principles of free speech and the public’s right to know. We are also dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues everywhere, and in that vein we condemn the ill-treatment some in your government have meted out to Mr. Neil-Jones.
Sir, we remind that when you were elected Prime Minister in June the Vanuatu Daily Post on 27 June 2011 published the pledge you made, which reads: “We want to maintain stability from here on, and ensure that the democratic process in Vanuatu prevails and the economic development of the country is one of the priorities.
“Unless such policies are contrary to the interest of the people and nation, we will maintain and build on them.”
We also want to assure you, Mr. Prime Minister, that as a journalist of distinction who is well-respected by his peers, Mr. Neil-Jones and the Vanuatu Daily Post have a lot to contribute to the economic growth and peaceful well-being of Vanuatu. And as a law-abiding citizen of Vanuatu he deserves to hold on with pride to his dignity and his self-respect.
Mr. Prime Minister, we urge that your government distances itself from those who employ weak-minded individuals to commit acts of brutality against defenseless journalists, which serves only to prevent the free press from contributing effectively to the economic growth of the Republic of Vanuatu.
And in the interest of press freedom and human decency we urge your government to ensure that the rule of law is respected in your country, and that justice is seen to be done in this case.
PasiMA joins other press freedom organizations in their call for this matter to be brought before the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
We respectfully await your response.
Savea Sano Malifa, Samoa Observer
Chairman, Pasifika Media Association (PasiMA)
Kalafi Moala, Taimi Media Network
John Woods, Cook Islands News