By Geraldine Panapasa, editor-in-chief of Wansolwara
That was the word from Fiji Times Ltd publisher Hank Arts after High Court judge Justice Thushara Rajasinghe acquitted him and the company Fiji Times Ltd, Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley, Nai Lalakai editor Anare Ravula and letter-writer Josaia Waqabaca of sedition charges at the High Court in Suva yesterday.
Speaking to Wansolwara News immediately after the verdict, Arts said they were happy with the judgment and relieved the case was over.
“We have always said we are not anti-government and our success today is a reinforcement and confirmation that we are a good newspaper. Our staff are incredible,” he said.
“Relief is the first comment I would make. We are so relieved and happy, but at the same time wonder how we had to go through all this—the human cost (of the case) is too high.”
When asked what the next step was for him considering that fact that he had missed his daughter’s wedding and his own anniversary as a result of the court case, Arts said light-heartedly: “I need a beer now.”
On a more serious note, Arts said The Fiji Times would focus on its strengths moving forward as this year was election year and next year would mark the company’s 150th anniversary.
According to Justice Rajasinghe, the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the article in question was seditious.
In his judgment, Justice Rajasinghe said he did not find any reason to disagree with the unanimous not guilty opinion of the three assessors.
Justice Rajasinghe found the intention of Waqabaca’s article was to have national reconciliation and he said he did not find any evidence that Arts or Wesley saw the article or knew about it before it was printed.
Fiji Times Ltd was charged with one count of printing a seditious publication while Arts was charged with one count of publishing in the Nai Lalakai an article, which had content with a seditious intention to promote feelings of ill will and hostility between classes of the population, namely non-Muslims and Muslims.
Waqabaca was charged with one count of submitting for publication an article written by him with a seditious intention, while Ravula and Wesley were charged with one count each of having aided and abetted the publication of a letter in the Nai Lalakai newspaper on April 27, 2016, by failing to prevent its publication.
The Fiji NGO Coalition on Human Rights today welcomed the decision of the judge.
“Section 17 of the Constitution guarantees the citizens of Fiji with freedom of speech, expression and publication,” said colaition chair Nalini Singh.
“It is encouraging to see democracy and rule of law prevail in Fiji. The Coalition holds freedom of expression and speech dear to the realisation of human rights.”
Earlier in the year, the coalition had raised concerns with the “ambiguity of media laws and freedom” that would “only foster a climate of fear and intimidation for the press” and also curtail meaningful political discussion which is significant to a robust democracy.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also strongly welcomed the decision, declaring it a win for press freedom in Fiji and the Pacific.
Wansolwara News is the online publication of the University of the South Pacific journalism programme and a partner of the Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report.