The Prime Minister of Fiji Mr Voreqe Bainimarama this morning made an urgent statement of utmost importance for the nation to state that the Fijian Government had intervened into a police case to free the journalists of Newsroom, Mark Jennings co-editor, investigations editor Melanie Reid and cameraman Hayden Aull.
The trio, who work for news website Newsroom, were taken into custody in Suva last night after attempting to interview a resort developer accused of the “environmental desecration” of a Mamanucas island.
The journalists were freed after 13 hours in detention at the main police station in Fiji’s capital Suva after developer Freesoul Real Estate reportedly accused them of criminal trespass.
Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama later issued a statement, saying he called for their immediate release.
Read the full statement here:
As soon I was informed that three journalists had been detained by the police for questioning, I immediately called for their release.
I –– together with my Minister for Environment and the Commissioner of Police –– have since met with the journalists to apologise for the treatment they’ve received and personally speak with them about our position on the environment, particularly with regards to development.
I understand these journalists were present in Fiji to report on the recent charges we’ve brought against Freesoul Real Estate Development. It should be made clear: the news media has been an ally in accountability, helping to expose the company’s illegal environmental destruction. While Freesoul is already under investigation for breaches of the Environment Management Act of 2005, they have continued to act in ways that demand the highest levels of public scrutiny.
The Commissioner for Police has assured me the detention of these journalists was an isolated incident undertaken by a small group of rogue officers. A full investigation into why these officers would use such heavy-handed tactics will be undertaken, and any violations of protocol or undue influence will be met with appropriate action.
The conduct of Freesoul Real Estate Development has been deeply concerning to me personally for some time. As both a Fijian who treasures our environment and a global advocate for sustainable development, I share in the public’s outrage.
We need to send a strong message to Freesoul Real Estate Development, and other developers looking to cause us harm, that they are not welcome to operate in Fiji –– that message needs to be backed by law to prevent repeat offences from bad-faith developers. That is why we have been considering a law which we will urgently introduce in the next session of Parliament to permanently ban companies that blatantly disregard our environmental laws and protections.
The Fijian people can be assured, we will not tolerate any attempts to violate the historic environmental protections enshrined in our Constitution –– protections that we will build upon with meaningful legislation. We will continue to lead from the front on this issue, at home and abroad. We will continue to walk the talk, for the sake of our environment, for the sake of our way of life, and for the sake of all those who come after us.
The trio were also later invited to meet the parliamentarians at the Fiji Parliament house at noon.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama met with three New Zealand Journalists – Newsroom co-editor Mark Jennings and investigations editor Melanie Reid with their cameraman Hayden Aull at the Government office in Parliament today.
The journalists who were detained last night and released this morning have been reassured by PM Bainimarama that the Fijian government will not tolerate any attempts to violate the historic environmental protections enshrined in the Fijian Constitution.
The head of government also apologised to the journalists for the treatment that they received.
Also present during the meeting was Police Commissioner Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho and Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development, Waterways and Environment Hon. Mahendra Reddy.
The government moved a motion to dismiss the standing orders and allow the Prime Minister to issue the urgent national message. The motion was opposed by the opposition.