The Fiji Times, its three executives, and an opinion columnist were cleared of the sedition charges filed by the Fiji government after a High Court judge concurred with the ‘not guilty’ ruling of the court’s three assessors.
On April 27, 2016, weekly indigenous-language newspaper Nai Lalakai published a letter by Josaia Waqabaca which tackled the need for a national reconciliation between the country’s indigenous population and Muslim minority groups. Nai Lalakai is part of Fiji Times Ltd.
Two months later, charges of inciting communal hatred were filed by the Fiji government against Waqabaca, Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula, Fiji Times Editor-in-chief Fred Wesley, and the paper’s publisher and general manager Hank Art. The government said the article “promoted feelings of ill will and hostility among Muslims and non-Muslims.” A year later, the charges were amended to sedition which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years.
On May 18, 2018, the court’s three assessors ruled in favor of the accused. After four days, this decision was affirmed by High Court judge Justice Thushara Rajasinghe who said that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused abetted and committed sedition.
The ruling was welcomed by several regional and global media monitoring groups as a victory of free speech in Fiji. Many consider Fiji Times to be the last independent media outlet in the country where free speech has been undermined ever since the military took power in 2006. Elections were held in 2014 but threats against media freedom have remained.