Newsroom co-editor Mark Jennings, investigations editor Melanie Reid and freelance cameraman Hayden Aull were detained at Suva’s central police station overnight while police considered whether to charge them with criminal trespass.
After being released, Jennings, Reid and Aull were escorted to the Fijian parliament by the police commissioner to a meeting with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
Bainimarama said he was pleased that Newsroom had been investigating the environmental damage caused by a Chinese developer on Malolo Island, and his government was taking it very seriously.
He also apologised.
“I wanted to speak to you personally to thank you for being very understanding about what transpired last night, but also to apologise on behalf of the government and the people of Fiji. The press in this instant has been an ally of ours in trying to ensure all the procedures are done in regards to development in Fiji.
“All I wanted to tell you this morning is how disappointed I am, and the people of Fiji, we are outraged by what transpired, because we want help from our ally in press reporting with what’s been happening in Fiji in regards to development issues.”
Here is the full statement Bainimarama made to Parliament:
This morning, I was informed that three journalists had been detained by the police for questioning. Upon learning of this situation, the Fijian Government immediately demanded their release.
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.
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.
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.
I – together with my Minister for Environment and the Commissioner for Police – will meet with the journalists later today to apologise for the treatment they’ve received and personally speak with them about our position on the environment, particularly with regards to development.
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 and for the sake of all those who come after us.