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VANUATU POLICE BEAT UP NEWSPAPER PUBLISHER Marc Neil-Junes says Police angry over critical story

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, January 19, 2009) - The Daily Post publisher Marc Neil - Jones has been assaulted by members of Correctional Services in a nasty incident at the newspaper office on Saturday at about 12.45pm that left him with a suspected broken nose, bruised eye and abrasions.

The 51 year old Vanuatu citizen was by himself in his office when a truck pulled up with angry officers allegedly under the influence of alcohol working with Correctional Services at the prison.

They stormed into the office and accused Neil- Jones of causing the dismissal of Joshua Bong as Acting Director of Correctional Services and demanding to know who was going to look after the prisoners now.

A shaken Neil - Jones advised police, "One of them was well built, strong and with a belly wearing shorts and a singlet punched me in the eye and nose and hit me four or five times.

"I was kicked a number of times when I was on the ground. The two others with him threatened to kill me because I hadn’t got their side of the story on the problems with the prison. One threatened me with a knife and said he would cut my neck and another threatened to shoot me with a gun. They said they were going to take me to the prison to look after the prisoners. It was not a pleasant experience.

"They repeatedly said I was responsible for the problems with the prisoners because my staff journalists had not got their side of the story. I think they must have read the paper and seen the news on Saturday that the Prime Minister’s office had made the decision to remove Bong from the position of Acting DG of Correctional services and replace him with Mark Bebe."

Neil - Jones had written a strong editorial in the Post after the prison had been burnt down calling for Joshua Bong to step down or be suspended until the results of the Commission of Enquiry led by Professor Don Patterson had been completed.

The prisoners controversial report claimed numerous human rights violations allegedly committed by Bong and his Correctional Services officers. Neil - Jones had said that the numerous prison escapes, allegations of human rights problems in the jail and the burning down of the jail under Bong’s control were grounds for suspension until such time as Commission of Enquiry was completed.

Bong had demanded a meeting with Neil - Jones on Monday through MAV over a photo that was sent in and published by the paper showing the prison gates wide open and unattended the week after 5 prisoners had walked out and escaped. He was not happy with media coverage in general on Correctional Services.

Neil-Jones said he tried to reason with the trained police and VMF officers that he was not responsible for deciding what went in the newspaper day to day but they would not listen, made racist comments to the effect this was their country and threw a computer to the ground, overturned plants and punched and kicked him.

The Publisher has now demanded that the police, Correctional Services and government arrest those who were involved and sort the matter out internally.

He is also threatening to go public in New Zealand and Australia over New Zealand tax-payers money being spent on a system that seems to have only got a lot worse since New Zealand has been involved with the prisons, culminating now in allegedly drunken and undisciplined officers assaulting media personnel only doing their job.

He advised, "I would hope that the Australian government who are giving the police millions of dollars of aid and the New Zealand Government who are assisting Correctional Services, voice their concern strongly over this assault as it is totally unacceptable. I am sure media in those countries would have a field day if they knew how their money is being wasted."

Neil - Jones, who is an insulin dependent diabetic, has suffered from high blood pressure since being illegally thrown in the prison by police after he had demanded the suspension of a police officer for assaulting his sports journalist in a rugby game between police and USP a few years ago.

After getting out of the jail he wrote about human rights violations of prisoners and Correctional Services was eventually removed from police control. In the late 90’s he was regularly assaulted for publishing sensitive stories that politicians didn’t like in a personal fight for media freedom in Vanuatu.

In 2000 he was deported by the then Prime Minister Barak Sope for publishing ‘state secrets’ including the news that eventually got Sope convicted in court.

Commander South Superintendent John Taleo has confirmed Neil-Jones filed an official complaint against his assailants immediately following the incident. Police are investigating the assault.

After filing his complaint with the police on Saturday afternoon, he returned to the office yesterday morning to say he did recognize one of the assailants.

"If we could arrest prominent MPs for breaking the law, then we would arrest any police officer for doing the same because no one is above the law but now he has to help the police identify the attackers," Taleo said.

Vanuatu Daily Post

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