Vanuatu Bashing UpDates
Dr Mark Hayes
(Moved from an earlier Post ‘cos this caper just gets bigger…)
18 July, 2011
The International Commission of Jurists may be taking an active interest in this continuing caper, Pacific Beat reported on July 15, 2011.
What’s also interesting is, as PacBeat noted in their Intro to the story, how both the Vanuatu PM and the Opposition Leader seem to have taken Vows of Silence.
They’re busy people, and have a lot of demands on their time, to be sure, but one would think the Vanuatu PM would say something, if only to castigate the interfering international media. Or something…
13 July, 2011
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has also strongly criticized the court outcome, describing the $US 150 fine on Hon Harry Iauko as ‘risible’.
AUT’s Pacific Media Centre and Pacific Media Watch published the RSF statement, with a longer flashback to an earlier story.
4.30pm AEST ~ 12 July, 2011
The new Pacific media association, PasiMA, has written to the Vanuatu Prime Minister, Hon Sato Kilman about Mr Neil-Jones’ assault and the subsequent court case.
The letter is published below, with PasiMA’s permission:
Savea Sano Malifa
PasiMA protests over ill-treatment of Vanutu newspaper publisher Marc Neil-Jones
“The [Vanuatu] Public Prosecutor’s handling of this matter is exceptionally appalling,
demeaning, and demonstrates a blatant disregard of human decency and natural justice.”
APIA, SAMOA –The chairman of Pasifika Media Association (PasiMA) has written a letter of protest to Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman regarding the Vanuatu government’s handling of the brutal beating of Vanuatu Daily Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones by government minister Harry Iauko. To date, there has been no reply from Prime Minister Kilman. The full text of the letter follows.
8 July 2011
The Honorable Sato Kilman, Prime Minister
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Government of Vanuatu
Port Vila, Vanuatu
The board and members of the Pasifika Media Association (PasiMA) are shocked and deeply concerned over the apparent ill-treatment by your government of the publisher of the Vanuatu Daily Post, Marc Neil-Jones.
In March this year, your government’s Minister of Public Utilities, Harry Iauko, went inside the office of the Daily Post with eight men, whom he then ordered to bash up Mr. Neil-Jones.
As his “thugs” were assaulting the publisher, Mr. Iauko himself stood by and watched, and then apparently satisfied, he ordered the men to stop, and they left.
Later, battered and bleeding, Mr. Neil-Jones lodged a complaint with the authorities.
This week when the matter was heard before Public Prosecutor, Ms. Kayleen Tavoa – who is herself implicated in this matter – denied legal representation for Mr. Neil-Jones, and in the end found Minister Iauko guilty of “aiding and abetting,” and fined him an insignificant 15,000 Vatu ($US150.)
Your Excellency, with respect, we cannot hesitate to let you know that in our view, the Public Prosecutor’s handling of this matter is exceptionally appalling, demeaning, and demonstrates a blatant disregard of human decency and natural justice.
Although we applaud your stand at the beginning in insisting that the matter should proceed to a court of law, we had hoped it would be heard by an independent and higher tribunal, preferably the Supreme Court.
This, however, was not to be the case.
Your Excellency, we believe that a Minister of State who uses the power of his government, entrusted to him by the people to serve the country, to intentionally and premeditatedly cause injury to defenseless members of the public has no right being a minister of your Cabinet.
He should be locked up in jail instead.
The statements made by Deputy Prime Minister Ham Lini were shocking as well. He said, as quoted by Radio New Zealand, that “It’s because of the media that this has been made a big issue. It’s still better than killing someone.”
Are we to think, then, that because Mr. Neil-Jones was not killed, that your government views this vicious and vile attack as an unimportant event?
Let us remind you that as the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vanuatu, you would have declared to publicly uphold the principles of free speech and media freedom as guaranteed by your country’s constitution, when you took office.
And indeed, you would have also publicly promised that your government would commit itself to preserving that very freedom.
Your Excellency, PasiMA is the professional association of Pasifika’s independent media owners, operators and principals, dedicated to upholding the principles of free speech and the public’s right to know. We are also dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues everywhere, and in that vein we condemn the ill-treatment some in your government have meted out to Mr. Neil-Jones.
Sir, we remind that when you were elected Prime Minister in June the Vanuatu Daily Post on 27 June 2011 published the pledge you made, which reads: “We want to maintain stability from here on, and ensure that the democratic process in Vanuatu prevails and the economic development of the country is one of the priorities.
“Unless such policies are contrary to the interest of the people and nation, we will maintain and build on them.”
We also want to assure you, Mr. Prime Minister, that as a journalist of distinction who is well-respected by his peers, Mr. Neil-Jones and the Vanuatu Daily Post have a lot to contribute to the economic growth and peaceful well-being of Vanuatu. And as a law-abiding citizen of Vanuatu he deserves to hold on with pride to his dignity and his self-respect.
Mr. Prime Minister, we urge that your government distances itself from those who employ weak-minded individuals to commit acts of brutality against defenseless journalists, which serves only to prevent the free press from contributing effectively to the economic growth of the Republic of Vanuatu.
And in the interest of press freedom and human decency we urge your government to ensure that the rule of law is respected in your country, and that justice is seen to be done in this case.
PasiMA joins other press freedom organizations in their call for this matter to be brought before the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
We respectfully await your response.
Savea Sano Malifa, Samoa Observer
Chairman, Pasifika Media Association (PasiMA)
Kalafi Moala, Taimi Media Network
John Woods, Cook Islands News
PASIFIKA MEDIA ASSOCIATION • P.O. Box 1572 Apia, Samoa • Phone: 0685 26977 • email@example.com
– end –
Vanuatu Bashers in Court ~ Sort-of
The facts surrounding the outrageous assault on Vanuatu Daily Post Publisher, Mr Marc Neil-Jones, and the threatening of his Editor, by then Vanuatu Minister for Public Utilities, Harry Iauko, and several of his associates, on Friday, March 4, 2011, were never in dispute.
Here’s a Radio New Zealand International search string pulling up all their stories on this matter.
What was of considerable concern was the time it was taking for the police to ‘investigate’ the attack even though they were promptly at the Daily Post newsroom while the perpetrators were still there, round up and charge the perpetrators, and put them in front of a stern and unsmiling judge or magistrate.
The matter popped up during early April, 2011, when four of Minister Iauko’s associates fronted court, but not Hon the Minister himself.
It wasn’t until the end of May that it was announced that Hon the Minister and his associates would front court on June 10.
Meanwhile, the Daily Post alleged that the Public Prosecutor, Ms Kayleen Tavoa, had a conflict of interest over the prosecution of Minister Iauko, and, in reply, she threatened defamation action against the Post and Mr Neil-Jones.
Finally, on June 30, the perpetrators were found guilty of assault and related offences.
Here’s the Radio New Zealand International story:
Vanuatu cabinet minister, Harry Iauko, has pleaded guilty to charges relating to the assault of publisher Marc Neil-Jones.
The Daily Post reports that Senior Magistrate Rita Naviti sentenced the eight men involved in the assault of its publisher with fines ranging up to nearly one thousand US dollars
Mr Iauko, who was recently re-named the public utilities minister, was sentenced to fines totalling nearly 150 US dollars for aiding and abetting damage to property and for aiding and abetting intentional assault.
Three charges of unlawful assembly, unlawful entry and criminal trespass were withdrawn by the State Prosecutor after he pleaded not guilty.
In her decision the judge said Mr Iauko pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the commission of two offences because he feels responsible for the action of his supporters and omitted to prevent them from going that far.
She said he has cooperated with the investigation.
The next day, RNZI reported Mr Neil-Jones’ disappointment at the outcome:
“Is aiding and abetting an assault and aiding and abetting damage to office property a criminal offence? If it is and he has pleaded guilty, where does that leave things? Can he stand in elections? I think it’s just going to be classified as a misdemeanour, because it was a fine, it wasn’t a jail sentence.”
On Monday, July 4, 2011, RNZI’s Johnny Blades reported this extraordinary interview with Deputy Prime Minister, Ham Lini:
“Lini: It’s because of the media that this has been made a big issue. It’s still better than killing people.”
“Blades: What was that, can you say it again?”
“Lini: I said, compare that with people killing people…”
“Blades: It’s not as bad as killing someone?”
“Lini: Yeah… So we’ll see what happens. Maybe there’ll be something happening but it will depend very much on the Prime Minister and how the coalition’s going to be consolidated.”
The context in all this is crucial.
Throughout, the Vanuatu Government was decidedly shakey, and part-way through this matter, the courts ruled that the Kilman Government was illegal and replaced Sato Kilman with previous Prime Minister, Edward Natapei, in an interim capacity.
The Kilman Government was always shakey following last December’s Parliamentary no confidence motion against then PM Natapei, and they needed every vote they could get, including from Public Utilities Minister, Harry Iauko, whose power base is on the island of Tana, and those aligned with him. If Minister Iauko went down, disbarred from Parliament because of a serious criminal conviction, the Kilman Government could easily fall on the numbers.
My sources, being very close to the Daily Post but not Marc Neil-Jones, confirmed that the Wikipedia entry on Mr Harry Iauko is accurate. He does appear to have led an ‘interesting’ political career.
This being the case, I, and many other informed observers, are left wondering at the state of Vanuatu justice, particularly given Mr Lini’s all but explicit admission to RNZI, above, regarding the context being of great significance to the outcome of the assault case.
I have opined throughout this matter that, had Mr Neil-Jones and some of his Daily Post associates paid a visit to Hon Minister Iauko’s Port Vila office and comported themselves in ways similar to how Hon Minister Iauko and his associates did, the police would have been on their case, the perpetrators apprehended, charged, dragged before the courts, and tossed into Port Vila’s notorious jail, all so fast that Mr Neil-Jones and associates’ feet would have hardly hit the ground.
Hon Minister Iauko, thanks to a plea bargain with the prosecution, and a guilty plea to the lesser charges, was mercilessly thrashed by a stern and unsmiling, feather wielding, magistrate.
More to the point, he was not convicted of an offence which would have forced him to relinquish his Parliamentary seat or Ministerial role, thence putting the Kilman Government in serious jeopardy on the floor of Parliament.
If a conviction serious enough to have him booted out of Parliament was recorded, and then if the Vanuatu Government fell due to the loss of his supporting vote, and probably those of his faction as well, then, in my view, ‘Tough. They should have thought of that before they visited the Daily Post’s newsroom and assaulted the Publisher’.
Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat’s Mr Bruce Hill interviewed Mr Neil-Jones on July 4, 2011.
I’ll leave the currently last and succinct word to Mr Neil-Jones, who told RNZI’s Mr Blades on July 4, 2011:
“A minister can send his goons into a media office, assault anyone they want and overturn the office and a precedent has been set that he will only receive a 1500 Vatu [$AU 150] fine.”
Questions are now being Asked about what this case reveals about the overall performance of Vanuatu’s police in hunting down alleged miscreants, the effectiveness of Vanuatu’s Leadership Code, and the general conduct of Vanuatu’s law and order system.
This whole appalling caper isn’t over yet.
Updates ~ 7 & 8 July, 2011 ~
The Pacific Freedom Forum issued this statement ~ Justice Denied in Vanuatu publisher assault. And the International Federation of Journalists, Asia-Pacific Desk, also issued this Statement, echoing the PFF Statement.
I didn’t have anything to do with drafting the PFF statement, unlike their earlier statements on this matter, but I agree completely with it.
Pacific Beat for July 8, 2011, interviewed Ms Lisa Williams-Lahiri, Regional Coordinator of the International Federation of Journalists Pacific Media for Democracy and Human Rights Project, who said they want to take the matter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
I happen to know that the new Pacific media organization, PasiMA, is gearing up to issue a Statement as well, and its Chairman, respected Samoan publisher, Savea Sano Malifa, is sending a very strongly worded letter to the Vanuatu Prime Minister, Mr Sato Kilman.
As entirely expected, both the Media Association ni-Vanuatu (MAV) and PINA remain deafening in their silence, unless they’ve been whispering somewhere and I’ve missed any recent statements (always open to being proven wrong, with supporting evidence).
And Marc Neil-Jones posted this statement to a Pacific journalist’s e-mail list on Thursday afternoon, July 7:
I have failed unfortunately in my attempt to put a stop to violence against media with this case against Iauko which was watertight. I really believed we could get him convicted of a serious criminal offence and that would get him out of politics and send a clear message to all MP’s that attacking the messenger using political supporters is not an option and would stop as the reality is here that most MP’s use their ‘boys’ if they want to apply pressure on anyone.
July 11, 2011 –
|About freedom and justice|
Savea Sano Malifa
TODAY’S TOPIC: Without press freedom in Vanuatu the darkness breeding fear and injustice there tightens even harder.
Unlike Samoa, Vanuatu is a country enveloped in near-total darkness. Its people cannot see through it the light of freedom enlightening the minds of those living in other parts of the world.
This week, as we’re enjoying the gift of free thought we take for granted each day, the people of Vanuatu are totally unaware of what their government is doing.
In March this year, Vanuatu’s Minister of Public Utilities, Harry Iauko, went inside the office of the Vanuatu Daily Post with eight men, whom he then ordered to bash up the paper’s publisher, Marc Neil-Jones.
As his “thugs” were assaulting the publisher, Iauko himself stood by and watched, and then satisfied, he ordered the men to stop, and they left.
This week when the matter was heard before the Public Prosecutor, Minister Iauko was found guilty of “aiding and abetting” and was fined 15,000 Vatu ($US150.)
Seven of the eight “thugs” were convicted of assault and fined between 13,000 and 80,000 Vatu each ($US130 and $US800.)
“I’m nervous that there is no justice in Vanuatu today,” he says. “I’m nervous that a precedent has been set.
Already Mr Neil-Jones sounds as though he has lost hope in justice prevailing in his country.
They are in fact aggravated by the notion that Prime Minister Sato Kiliman, who had insisted at the beginning the matter should proceed to a trial, did not intervene even when it was decided it would not be heard by the Supreme Court.
Made by Public Prosecutor Ms Kaykeen Tavoa, that decision meant the matter would be heard by the Magistrate’s Court which is under her jurisdiction, in which case legal representation for Mr Neil-Jones was disallowed.
Which was a big disappointment, Mr Neil-Jones says, since the “National Pro-bono Association of Australia had offered to provide a Queens Counsel (QC)” to help with the case.
And then hope surfaced.
“Mr Regenvanu was very helpful,” Mr Neil-Jones says. “He said they would look into the matter and see if they can overturn the Public Prosecutor’s decision.”
But then, as it was to be expected, the Public Prosecutor would not be moved.
And why didn’t Prime Minister Mr Kiliman – knowing well that a member of his cabinet was a defendant – insist that the matter should be heard by the Supreme Court?
Which suggests that Mr Kiliman’s hands were held tightly behind his back so that he could not move an inch, since abandoning Minister Iauko would mean a vote of no confidence in his leadership, a possible change of government, and Public Prosecutor Ms Tavoa was well aware of this.
“What has happened is a clear miscarriage of justice,” he says. “All I want is justice and equality for all.
“I have to talk to my partner,” he says. “I won’t leave. Perhaps I’ll just stay in the background, get out of the media.”
As for us here in Samoa, we believe we are alright. Just. Any attempt then to derail the course of justice in this country must be repelled strenuously; it must not succeed.