Sunday, March 02, 2008

Banning press freedom opens door wide to dictatorship

This morning as we’re preparing to go to church, let’s sit down for a moment and think seriously about this little story.
It is somewhere in the night when your family is asleep and there’s a knock on the door. You have no idea who the person knocking from outside is. You get up half-heartedly, and drowsily you go over and open the door.
The next thing you know is that you are told you have to go to the military barracks for questioning. You have no idea what is going on and you are not allowed to know. You are not even allowed to ask questions.
You are forcibly led to the waiting car without saying a word to your wife and children who are asleep, and the car speeds away. But instead of it going to the barracks, it veers off in the direction of a distant airport, four hours away.
Suddenly it hits you that you are being abducted by military police. During the ride while some of your kidnappers dose off, one of them asks for your cel phone. You hand it over and he keeps it.

You soon realise that you are deliberately being denied access to anyone in the world, including your children and wife who must be worried sick about whether you are alive of dead.
At the airport you are whizzed through Customs and Immigration, and herded like a criminal on the plane that will take you away from your home and your family that you love so very much.
On the plane you mull over the dismal knowledge that all you have that you can call your own is the shirt on your back, and there isn’t even a penny in your pocket. You are effectively a man without a family and a home. In brief, a nobody.
Imagine all that and you can then perhaps feel what Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter went through when he was abducted by Interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Baniamarama’s military men last week.
So what do you think? What would you do if someone drags you away in the middle of the night from your wife and children knowing you have done nothing wrong, and force you to do things against your will?
Would you refuse to go? Would you demand an explanation? Or would you become murderous? Mr Hunter did none of these things. He went peacefully.

Indeed, did Mr Hunter, whose job is to ensure that Fijian citizens are well-informed, become knowledgeable and enjoy their democratic rights like their freedom to express their opinions, deserve such horrible treatment?
Do you think we should entertain ourselves here in Samoa with the sort of night-time fear that dictator Baniamarama is implanting so pervasively in the minds of the Fijian people?
How can such a man rest at night after declaring his intention is to spare his people from the evil called corruption, when he himself is the personification of evil?
By deliberately stomping on press freedom which is the very tool that can help him achieve his goal, Baniamarama is not only a dictator but an idiot as well.
We know. Baniamaram’s fans in this country are probably hollering with sarcastic glee that their idol doesn’t give a hoot about what we say in this column. Well, that’s alright. It only shows that although they have eyes they cannot see.
Just look around us this very minute. Don’t you see Baniamaram’s rousing dictatorship taking shape slowly but surely in the halls of power in Samoa today?

Why are some staunch supporters of the powerful Human Rights Protection Party distancing themselves from the government and its seemingly ill-conceived RHD bill?
We know why. Because they see Frank Baniamarama’s thinking emerging in the HRPP hierarchy and they’re scared; they love their country so much that they want nothing to do with a law that will destroy it. That’s right. They don’t want their hands smeared with blood when this RHD mess becomes a legal entity.
But that is exactly what is happening in Fiji today. It is a country being ruled by a dictator with blood in his hands, and the country is dying slowly from self-imposed strangulation.
Out there at Siumu, the matai leadership is suppressing press freedom and the public’s right to know. They’ve imposed a ban on reporting what’s happening with their land dispute with the government.
And yet when the dispute emerged some years ago, the first place they went to was the press. They wanted free publicity and they were given it. How short of memory some people can get!
Then along the way their lawyer threatened to sue this newspaper and demanded an apology. And just recently they’ve been sending over press releases which they presumably wanted published free of charge, as though nothing untoward has happened.

It’s a shame. After hundreds of thousands of Tala have been spent on this dispute, not a sign of an end can be seen. So it seems as if the Siumu people should sit up and take a hard look. They should think hard.
And it is not the press’ fault that they’re getting nowhere with their dispute. They should look closer to home. The Siumu leadership should be told that banning press freedom is not the solution but the beginning of a more formidable problem; it opens the door wide to dictatorship.
But never mind. This newspaper will from now on honour Siumu’s press ban. Hard as it is to imagine that the free flow of information is now being sullied and curtailed, we will desist from covering Siumu’s dispute.
So what do you think? Do you want Samoa to be ruled like Siumu and Fiji? We don’t think so.
Freedom is sacrosanct. That is the rule. And that should remain Samoa’s sacred rule.
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless.

Published: 2 March 2008
Source: Samoa Observer Newspaper