Monday, May 05, 2008

Immigration around the Globe: Fiji. No warning of deportation. He Was deported to Australia.

An Australian newspaper publisher in Fiji has been deported from the South Pacific country and put on a flight to South Korea, after being branded a security threat.

Publisher of the Fiji Times newspaper, Evan Hannah, was put on a plane leaving Nadi Airport this morning at 9.35am local time (7.35am AEST), according to a spokesman for News Ltd, which owns the paper.

Director of corporate affairs at News Ltd, Greg Baxter, said Hannah had been forced aboard Korean Air flight KEO138 by Fiji authorities after they ignored a court order aimed at preventing his deportation.

"Attempts were made by Fiji authorities to initially put him on an Air Pacific flight to Australia and Air Pacific refused to take him," Baxter said.

"They then tried to put him on a Solomon Islands flight and they refused to take him. They then insisted that Korean Air take him. We believe that occurred with some persistence.

"It wasn't a negotiation, it was basically an order," Baxter said.

He said arrangements were being made to have Hannah met by Australian officials in Seoul and placed on a flight to Sydney.

If he can get a seat on the earliest flight out of Seoul, at 8.30pm (7.30pm AEST) tonight, he would be scheduled to arrive in Sydney at 7.30am AEST Saturday, Baxter said.

Since staging a military coup in Fiji in December 2006 and appointing himself prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama has been accused of waging a campaign of intimidation against journalists in the country.

Fiji's interim foreign affairs minister, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, told Fiji television on Thursday night that Hannah was being deported because he was a threat to national security.

In March, Hannah was summoned to the office of Fiji's interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who is understood to have complained about the political coverage of the Fiji Times.

Sayed-Khaiyum told AAP on Friday he had just returned from an overseas trip and did not know whether Hannah had been deported.

"I just got off the plane myself. I am not fully aware of what is happening," he said.

Soon after the 2006 coup troops occupied some offices of media companies and demanded the right to scrutinise reports before they were aired or published.

More recently the Australian publisher of the Fiji Sun newspaper, Russell Hunter, was thrown out of the country after writing articles critical of a minister in the military government.

Hannah's wife, Dr Katarina Tuinamuana, said her husband had been prepared for the possibility he would be deported.

"After the deportation of Russell Hunter we knew that anything could happen. It did come as a surprise to us that it happened now. We did think things were starting to calm down a bit," Tuinamuana said.

Editor of the Fiji Times, Netani Rika, said his newspaper would continue to fearlessly report politics in the country.

"We have been bullied and intimidated for the last 18 months. We have been bullied and intimidated by previous governments. It hasn't stopped us in the past and it won't stop us now," Rika said.

Fiji's interim national security and immigration minister, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, later said in a statement: "Based on credible evidence and advise (sic) furnished to me, Mr Hannah's actions were breaching national security of the country.

Hannah had been removed under a section of the Immigration Act relating to prohibited immigrants, he said.

"The security interests of the sovereign state of Fiji at this point in time are of paramount importance. Mr Hannah was previously cautioned of the implications of his actions. He, however, chose to ignore this," Ganilau said.

He also defended government staff who put Hannah onto a plane bound for South Korea, despite a High Court order to stop the deportation.

"(The) court order issued by the High Court had not been officially received by the Director of Immigration before Mr Hannah was removed from Fiji this morning," Ganilau said.

"(The) court order needs to be sighted first by the Director of Immigration before officials can act on it."

Australia, the United States and New Zealand have condemned the deportation of the Australian newspaper publisher from military-ruled Fiji.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued a statement that called the deportation "extraordinary and very disappointing".

"This is yet another reprehensible act in a disturbing pattern of behaviour since the coup of December 2006 which has resulted in the severe erosion of fundamental human rights and the rule of law in Fiji," the DFAT statement said.

"The United States Government is very concerned by the Fiji interim government's expulsion of Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah," the US State Department said in a statement.

"This is the second time the interim government has expelled a newspaper publisher in less than 10 weeks, raising serious questions about the interim government's respect for the freedom of the press.

"The United States continues to condemn the military coup and the interim government's actions to suppress the freedom of speech of those in the media."

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Fiji's military-led interim government was trying to muzzle the media.

"The regime clearly does not place a high value on freedom of the press," Clark said.

"Such actions are not conducive to creating the kind of environment needed for free and fair elections to be held in Fiji by March 2009" as promised by coup leader and self-appointed prime minister Frank Bainimarama, she said.

Clark said her country's acting high commissioner was seeking an urgent explanation for Hannah's deportation, in defiance of an order from the Fiji High Court

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