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Newspaper chiefs cleared in Fiji sedition trial

By AFP

Added 22nd May 2018 11:28 AM

High Court judge Thushara Rajasinghe acquitted three staff members from the Fiji Times occasionally a feisty critic of the governing regime in the capital Suva.

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High Court judge Thushara Rajasinghe acquitted three staff members from the Fiji Times occasionally a feisty critic of the governing regime in the capital Suva.

 
COURT
 
SUVA - Top executives at Fiji's oldest newspaper were found not guilty of sedition Tuesday in a decision hailed as a victory for media freedom in the coup-plagued Pacific island nation.
 
High Court judge Thushara Rajasinghe acquitted three staff members from the Fiji Times occasionally a feisty critic of the governing regime in the capital Suva.
 
Editor-in-chief Fred Wesley, publisher Hank Arts and supplement editor Anare Ravula had all pleaded not guilty to the charges, which stemmed from a 2016 letter to the editor.
 
The letter, printed in a low-circulation Fijian-language supplement of the Times, allegedly contained inflammatory comments about Muslims.
 
The author of the letter, Josefa Waqabaca, was also found not guilty.
 
Arts said he was relieved and the verdict was "a bit of a victory for our industry".
 
"Two years in and out of here has been very difficult and very tough on us, personally and on the business," he told reporters outside the court.
 
He said the Times would maintain its independent editorial stance.
 
"What we need to do as a newspaper we will continue to do as a newspaper," he said.
 
"The Fiji Times has been here for 150 years. We are caretakers during this difficult time and we're going to steadfastly continue."
 
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described the case against the newspaper as "spurious" while Amnesty called the prosecution "outrageous" and accused the government of trying to intimidate the media.
 
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 military coup and ruled by decree until he won a general election in 2014.
 
Military censors in newsrooms were among the measures Bainimarama implemented before the country's return to democracy.
 
While RSF said conditions had improved, it noted reporters still operate under "draconian" media regulations that can attract two-year prison terms if broken.

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