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By Pamela Joseph

POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia (June 7, 1998 - The Island Tribune)--- Decisions of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) Government were aimed at stifling investigation and criticism of government activities and figures, so says the U.S. Department of State in a recent report entitled "Micronesia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997." The report was released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, on January 30, 1998.

The report questioned the FSM government's support of the press, as a result of the incident with Sherry O'Sullivan, a Canadian citizen, who was editor and writer of the FSM News, a monthly newspaper, published in Pohnpei, FSM. The government's actions came into question because of the nature of O'Sullivan's departure from the island. In March of 1997, the FSM Congress unanimously passed a resolution declaring O'Sullivan an "undesirable alien." Later, her editorial position with the FSM News was terminated. Soon after her dismissal, she brought a libel suit against her former business partners, Thomas Elsa and Frank Panuelo, and several other government representatives. Because her employment contract had ended, O'Sullivan left Pohnpei, but requested permission to return and continue publishing a newspaper, but with new partners. President Jacob Nena denied her request, stating alleged violation of immigration laws, as the reason. The FSM Supreme Court further denied even a brief entry into the country, as a connection to her pending lawsuit. The Micronesia Country Report asserted that the decision of the Government to banish O'Sullivan was "directly linked to her publishing activities."

Cheryl Martin, Charge d' Affaires to the United States Embassy in Pohnpei, stated that the report was fair to say that the real reason O'Sullivan was forbidden to return to the FSM was because of what she wrote in the FSM News, and not because she had violated immigration laws. Martin says she is heartened by what she sees as a lot of information available to the public about their government and about other things. She cited The Island Tribune and Senator Resio Moses' Congressional Advisor as sources of that available information. "I am hoping that what happened to Sherry O'Sullivan will not happen again," added Martin.

John Hollinrake, O'Sullivan's attorney in her suit against her former business partners, said he also believes that O'Sullivan was sent away because of what she wrote, not because of any violation of immigration laws. Hollinrake stated, "The FSM must immediately take remedial steps to correct this serious human rights abuse, or face the consequences. An apology to Ms. O'Sullivan, and retraction of the exclusion order, would be a good start." Hollinrake added that O'Sullivan was sent away because many public figures were angered and embarrassed by her reports.

Emilio Musrasrik, Secretary of the FSM Department of Justice, does not consider there to be a "weakening of the protection of the Constitutionally protected right of freedom of expression. There was and is no plan" he added, "to stifle investigation and criticism of government activities and figures."

Cheryl Martin, stated that the report is written every year on different issues that may affect the giving or not giving of U.S. assistance. Martin says the only significant difference between this year's report and last year's was the section on Freedom of Expression, because of what happened to Sherry O'Sullivan.

Other issues, also detailed in the Human Rights Report, give another view of the so-called paradise islands of the FSM.

Both spousal abuse and child neglect are depicted in the report as problems in the FSM that are increasing. Similar increases were found in the Human Rights reports of Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In the FSM, prosecution of spousal abuse is rare, the report said. In most cases, the report continues, the victim does not press charges, for fear of further assault and the belief that the police will see the problem as something private, and therefore not get involved.

According to the report, cases of physical and sexual assaults of women (both citizens and foreigners), outside the family context, are also increasing. The report contends that government enforcement of protection against discrimination based on race, sex, language or religion (notably discrimination and violence against women) is weak.

The Island Tribune P.O. Box 2222 Kolonia, Pohnpei Federated States of Micronesia 96941 TEL: (691) 320-8888 FAX: (691) 320-8888 E-MAIL: islandtribune@mail.fm WWW: http://www.islandtribune.com

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