NEWS

Prime Minister Bainimarama: I’m Sorry

NZ journalists, released by Police after Government intervention, accept apology.
05 Apr 2019 10:30
Prime Minister Bainimarama: I’m Sorry
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama with Newsroom.co.nz investigations editor Melanie Reid (middle) and co-editor Mark Jennings at the Government Office in Parliament on April 4, 2019. Photo: DEPTFO News

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama yesterday apologised to three New Zealand journalists  detained by “rogue” Police officers.

A board of inquiry has been set up to investigate the heavy-handed tactics used by Police as referred to by the PM, announced Police Commissioner Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho.

Newsroom.co.nz journalist, co-editor Mark Jennings, speaking also on behalf of investigations editor Melanie Reid and cameraman Hayden Aull, said they were grateful to the PM for his quick re- action. They accepted the apologies the PM made on behalf of the people of Fiji.

“We were not locked in the cell. We were interviewed by the CID and we spent the night in a room just off their main office. There was no abuse at all,” Mr Jennings said.

“The Prime Minister said that this was not a good action by the Police and he thanked us for not making a big deal out of it.”

The journalists are here to follow up their original story about Freesoul Real Estate Development environmental breaches on Malolo Island.

Meeting

Mr Bainimarama, Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho and Minister for Environment Mahendra Reddy met the journalists at the Government Office in Parliament yesterday to personally apologise.

This was after Parliament had to suspend the Standing Orders to allow Mr Bainimarama to make a statement on the issue.

He said the Government demanded their immediate release after learning about their detention.

“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,” Mr Bainimarama said.

“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.

“I have spoken with the Commissioner for Police, who 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.”

What happened

Mr Jennings said: “We actually have finished our work here and we have been reporting on Free- soul Real Estate Development on Malolo Island and we have come back to Suva to see the landowners’ lawyer.

“We passed the Freesoul’s office on the way so we went inside to see if we can ask about the development and we were told to leave which we did. About an hour later, the Police turned up at the lawyer’s office and took us to the Police station.”

Fijian Media Association

Fijian Media Association general secretary Stanley Simpson said they were concerned with the incident.

“We have spoken to the Commissioner of Police and he has clarified what took place. We are pleased with the action by the Prime Minister to rectify the situation,” Mr Simpson said.

Edited by Jonathan Bryce

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