VANUATU COURT ORDERS GOVERNMENT TO LET PUBLISHER NEIL-JONES BACK

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (January 20, 2001 - Vanuatu Trading Post/Radio Vanuatu/PINA Nius Online)---Vanuatu's Acting Chief Justice yesterday issued an interim order saying that the government should allow deported Vanuatu Trading Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones back into the country.

It came as local and international criticism of the early-morning deportation of Neil-Jones grew. The opposition said Neil-Jones had been about to publish details of a questionable deal involving the government.

Acting Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek issued an interim order for the government to allow Neil-Jones to enter, reside, and work in Vanuatu.

Two truckloads of police had arrived at Neil-Jones' Port Vila house at 5:30 a.m. The police took him to the airport, and put him on a flight to Brisbane 30 minutes later. They would not allow him to pack clothes or even take his medication for diabetes, he said.

Vanuatu Trading Post lawyer John Malcolm immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.

Neil-Jones told PINA Nius Online from Brisbane that he would attempt to reenter Vanuatu on a Sunday flight from Brisbane.

Prime Minister Barak Sope's Government has recently been embarrassed by a series of investigative reports by Neil-Jones revealing details about overseas businessmen with whom it is involved.

Neil-Jones, who is originally from Britain, arrived in Port Vila 11 years ago from Papua New Guinea, where he had worked an executive with the Word Publishing newspaper group. He established the Vanuatu Trading Post in partnership with local investors at a time when Vanuatu had no non-government news media.

Opposition leader Edward Natapei condemned his deportation as illegal, undemocratic and dictatorial.

He said the real reason for the deportation was that Neil-Jones was about to break news on a highly questionable deal between the government and an Asian businessman.

Natapei said transparency by the government is one of the fundamental principles of Vanuatu's Comprehensive Reform Program.

He said when the Vanuaaku Pati led the government it respected the work done by the Vanuatu media, particularly the Trading Post. This was because the people have a right to know what their government is doing, he said.

Vanuatu's Ombudsman Hannington Alatoa also protested against the deportation, saying it appears the government acted illegally and may have breached Neil-Jones' constitutional rights.

A statement from the Office of Prime Minister Sope said the government deported Neil-Jones based on various "negative and baseless reports" in the Trading Post recently.

It said: "Trading Post publisher has been investigating the Government of Vanuatu in almost every activity. Our information revealed that the Trading Post publisher has some sources in Government who have been providing state secrets to him."

Pres Klab blong Vanuatu president Stevenson Liu said it is very concerned about the government action. It called on the government to use the judicial system rather than deportation if it was concerned about media reports.

The Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) said it is appalled by the way the Vanuatu Government acted.

A statement from the PINA Secretariat in Suva said the deportation of Neil-Jones is a chilling threat to freedom of expression and information. It would be a real worry to both investors in Vanuatu and Vanuatu's development partners.

PINA appealed to the Vanuatu Government not to return Vanuatu to the grim days of the past, when there was no independent media and the government-owned media were under constant pressure.

It said Neil-Jones should be allowed to return to Vanuatu immediately and if the Vanuatu Government has any problems with the Trading Post reporting it should go to court with these concerns.

PINA said dawn raids and treatment like that Neil-Jones was subjected to are reminiscent of a police state.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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