The media director of the Vanuatu Daily Post, Dan McGarry discovered on 7 November that the authorities had arbitrarily rejected his work permit renewal, brushing aside the fact that he has lived in this South Pacific archipelago for the past 16 years.
“I’m gutted, personally,” McGarry told RSF and its regional partner, the Pacific Media Center. “I’ve devoted 16 years of my life to this country’s development.” And he recently began the process of obtaining Vanuatuan citizenship.
The only reason given by the government was that another person would be “better qualified” to hold McGarry’s position although the privately-owned Vanuatu Daily Post does not have to account to the authorities for its choice of personnel.
“Make no mistake, this work permit cancellation is just a way of punishing a journalist whose investigative reporting annoyed the government,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We call on Prime Minister Chariot Salwai to immediately reconsider a decision that is both mean and unjust. This crude violation of press freedom fuels grave concern about the situation throughout the Pacific region and must not serve as an example.”
According to McGarry, everything began in July when his newspaper revealed that the authorities had detained six Chinese citizens and sent them back to China without a trial and without allowing them access to lawyers, although four of them had obtained Vanuatuan citizenship.
The government’s response came a few days later, McGarry says. “The Prime Minister summoned me and berated me for my ‘negative’ reporting. ‘If you don’t like it here,’ he told me, ‘go home’. But Vanuatu is my home.”
The press freedom situation in the Pacific is very disparate. Samoa, for example, is ranked 22nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, while Tonga is ranked 45th and Fiji 52nd.