The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned an op-ed by a pro-government military commander in Fiji last week defending curbs on freedom of expression and freedom of the press in order to enforce the lockdown imposed by the government to combat the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
“In times of such national emergency such as this […] war against covid-19, our leaders have good reasons to stifle criticism of their policies by curtailing freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” Brigadier-General Jone Kalouniwai wrote in an op-ed in the pro-government Fiji Sun newspaper on April 22.
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General Kalouniwai, who is Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) chief-of-staff and is regarded as close to Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, went on to voice “deep concerns about this enemy within, which have been fuelled by irresponsible citizens selfishly […] questioning the rationale of our leader’s decision to impose such restrictions.”
In a statement, the media freedom advocacy group RSF’s head of the Asia-Pacific desk Daniel Bastard said: “No authority, and certainly not a military officer, should be arguing in favour of placing any kind of curb on press freedom.”
Bastard added: “These comments recall the worst time of the Fijian military dictatorship from 2006 to 2014. We urge the Fijian government to do what is necessary to guarantee the right of its citizens to inform and be informed, which is an essential ally in combatting the spread of the virus.”
In late March, after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the western city of Lautoka, police manning a roadblock outside the city prevented delivery of the Fiji Times, the country’s only independent daily. Its pro-government rival, the Fiji Sun, was meanwhile distributed without any problem.
Fiji is ranked 52nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index. The country has had 18 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Pacific Media Watch collaborates with Reporters Without Borders.