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Fiji Time: 9:20 PM on Tuesday 22 July

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Fiji Times shuts under censorship threat

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Update 7.15am: The Fiji Times Limited has suspended publication after the Fiji military ordered the paper not to publish any "propaganda" against the new political leadership.

Armed soldiers came to the Victoria Parade officers at 7.30pm last night, and asked for "assistance". After a brief discussion outside, the soldiers entered the building for a discussion in the papers newsroom.

When questioned, spokesperson Sergeant Talei Tora told Managing Director Tony Yianni and Editor Samisoni Kakaivalu they could not publish anything from the "deposed" Qarase Government. She said of particular concern was any material that might incite trouble.

Mr Yianni and Mr Kakaivalu argued that a free press meant any and all opinions should be published in a balanced way.

Sgt Tora then made a phone call to official Army spokesman Captain Neumi Leweni. After the call she said the military said it would not tolerate the newspaper publishing any views that opposed those of the Army. The newspaper would be forced to close if this occurred.

Mr Yianni then ordered the newspaper closed himself.

Later last night Mr Yianni said the military's demands breached the Constitution of Fiji, which specifically protects freedom of speech.

He said the demands also breached the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"We were ordered to breach the Constitution and not publish any dissenting views that may be sent to us by free citizens, as well as the views of legally elected members of the Qarase government.

"If we do not have the freedom to publish with responsibility, then we do not publish.

"We would never and have never published anything that would incite people to do wrongdoing.

"The Bill of Rights is for everybody and not just for the Army."

Fiji Times Editor Mr Kakaivalu said he refused to edit any newspaper in which content had been altered or censored in any way by external forces.

"I, and my staff, refuse to work for any publication under these conditions. This is no longer journalism, but propaganda ... exactly the effect the Army says it is trying to prevent."

Mr Yianni said the company would protect its staff, and not allow them to be intimidated by external forces.

"I think the military needs to remember an age-old truism ... in a battle between guns and pens, pens always win."


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