Pacific Media Centre Pacific Media Watch Pacific Journalism Review Asia Pacific Report

VANUATU: Publisher vows to press assault charges against minister

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Item: 7299

Royson Willie

A minister of the State, Harry Iauko, led a group of men yesterday around 3pm into the Daily Post newspaper’s office and assaulted publisher Marc Neil-Jones, threatening staff over articles carried in the newspaper about the minister’s handling of land issues, the Airports Vanuatu Limited board suspension, Transparency International’s column and letters to editor.

All these were carried throughout the week in different issues of the newspaper.

The group led by the minister entered the Daily Post office quietly and all - including the Minister for Public Utilities - went into the publisher’s office and assaulted him at his desk.

The minister was clearly heard by Daily Post staff shouting at the top of his voice as Neil-Jones was assaulted.

Publisher Marc Neil-Jones ... attacked.An angry Neil-Jones said he would be pressing charges against the minister on several counts, including aiding and abetting an assault.

He said he will be pressing charges against the minister because he was the one who could have stopped the men from going into the Daily Post office to assault, but instead Iauko stood right next to him and watched the assault taking place.

Strangled, kicked
A doctor’s examination on Neil-Jones found marks on his neck indicating someone had attempted to strangle him. Neil-Jones said he was grabbed by the neck and kicked.

“I was particularly angry to seek Jay Ngwele with the group because he owes me over Vt300,000 for construction work that he was paid to do but never did,” he said.

Minister Iauko also threatened the editor of the Daily Post, Royson Willie, saying “yu wantem mi brekem face blo yu?” (do you want me to break your face?) with one of the men by the name of Nanua from North Tanna threatening the editor.

The editor has condemned the attack on the free and independent media in Vanuatu, saying such action is a disgrace and unacceptable, especially when a state minister was involved in such completely not statesmanship action.

The men with the minister were mostly from North Tanna, Middle Bush on Tanna and Whitesands on Tanna, living in Port Vila.

The thugs used a government vehicle with registration number G762 to carry out the act.

This government vehicle was driven by Iauko’s political crony, Jay Ngwele.

Police arrived at the scene as the group was leaving the office.

The details of the assault have already been given to the police who are investigating. - Vanuatu Daily Post/Pacific Media Watch

Police statement from Marc Neil-Jones

Port Vila, Vanuatu, 5 March 2011

Around 3pm on Friday, 4 March 2011, I was in my office writing emails when suddenly my office door burst open and Minister Harry Iauko barged into the office, followed by around 8 other people. They had not asked to see me or had gone through normal protocol, asking my secretary if they could see me. They had marched through the office threatening my staff and barged into my office.

I had broken the news about Iauko and a corrupt land deal involving Marina Motel a few weeks ago and had wriiten a news item earlier in the week about Iauko suspending the Airports Vanuatu board illegally and in that days paper there was a very critical piece on him by Transparency International, which we did not write, as well as two letters from members of the public angry over his actions in targeting Airports Vanuatu and expressing personal opinions critical of the ministers actions.. He was very angry at the criticism.

I was sitting behind my desk and Iauko came into the office with his men, came around the desk and stood over me and was very angry. His eyes were glazed and he was perspiring and was ready to fight. He looked as though he wanted to assault me and I tried to talk to him without success. He accused me of writing bad things about him to cause him problems and said this would be the last time.

Iauko as the minister was in complete control of the situation and in control of  the people with him, most of them were working for him at the ministry according to Daily Post staff. All of them are on CCTV footage up until the time they all entered my office.

They pushed my desk violently to one side and kicked my chair over to make room to reach me.

As I turned to my right to get some water I was hit by someone.  I didn’t see who it was. I was then punched and kicked to the ground. My head was hit against the brick wall and someone grabbed my throat and attempted to strangle me by cutting off air. They only stopped when I was gurgling for breath and nearly unconscious and someone said stop. I have bruises on my arms, back, neck and head as two large tufts of my hair were also pulled out of my scalp and left on the floor and desk which was later photographed by police. All of this is on the official medical report done at Vila Bay  Hospital.

They threatened to return if I wrote any more negative things. I was left on the floor gasping for breath and with pain in my head and neck.

They all went back into the office intimidating and threatening my staff. One pushed my Tanna editor Royson Willie and didn’t go further because all hell would have broken loose in the future had he been assaulted as he is from a different part of Tanna to Iauko. At all times Iauko as minister was in complete control, knew exactly what was happening, instigated it and controlled it.  As minister at any time he could have stopped it but didn’t. He in effect endorsed and approved the assault and was directly involved in the assault and threats and disturbance of the peace.

I wish to press charges against all those who came into my office shown on CCTV for assault. I also wish all those who came into the office to also be charged with aiding and abetting assault, in particular the Minister Harry Iauko, as he was in complete control of the situation as the minister. I am not entirely sure who assaulted me as there were a few involved but they should all be charged with assault and aiding and abetting assault.

I also wish charges to be made against all of them for threatening behaviour, breach of the peace and intimidation.

I am also asking the Ombudsman to formerly lay charges against Iauko and all those civil servants working with him who entered my office and were involved in the assault, threatening behaviour, intimidation and disturbing the peace, for a clear Breach of the Leadership Code.

Marc Neil - Jones
Vanuatu Daily-Post

PMC profile photograph

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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