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Preliminary ruling finds Fiji 4 not guilty of sedition

AP  |  Wellington 

An and three executives in were found not guilty of Friday in a preliminary court ruling, although a has yet to make a final decision in the case.

Three assessors also ruled Times company was not guilty. Under the judicial system, the can chose to either follow or ignore the findings of the assessors. The adjourned the court on Friday, saying he planned to issue his verdict Tuesday.

The case has major implications for press freedom in the nation. Many people consider to be the last independent in a country where many outlets kowtow to the government.

The case centers on an opinion piece written by Josaia Waqabaca, a former The column ran in the Nai Lalakai, a small, weekly indigenous-language published by In his column, Waqabaca accused Muslims of historic including invading foreign lands, rape and murder.

Two months after the column appeared, a complained to the police. Charging papers accuse Waqabaca of committing by intentionally promoting "feelings of ill-will and hostility" between Muslims and non-Muslims in Fiji.

Hank Arts, the publisher of the Fiji Times, was also charged with on the basis he oversaw the column's publication. Two others with oversight responsibilities were charged with aiding and abetting sedition: Anare Ravula, the of the weekly paper, and Fred Wesley, the Fiji Times

Fiji has a history of ethnic tensions between the indigenous majority and the 37 percent of people whose ancestors came from India, typically as contract laborers brought over by the British in the 19th century.

Jon Fraenkel, a at New Zealand's Victoria University of Wellington, said the case was part of a pattern of government interference.

"They've been attacking the press in Fiji for a long time," he said. Fraenkel said it began after seized power in a 2006 coup. From 2009 until 2011, the regime installed censors at outlets, including the Fiji Times, to control what was being printed and broadcast.

Five years ago, the Fiji Times was fined $170,000 and Wesley was convicted and given a suspended jail sentence after the reprinted a story from in which a questioned Fiji's judicial system.

Bainimarama imposed his own constitution on the country in 2013. A year later, he held and won, retaining power while also gaining international legitimacy. In recent years, the government has stopped placing ads in the Fiji Times, while continuing to place them in the Fiji Sun, a rival newspaper that Fraenkel described as "effusive in its support" of the government.

Bainimarama plans to contest elections in the nation of 900,000 later this year.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, May 18 2018. 17:05 IST