Journalist says Chinese interference behind work visa denial in Vanuatu

By Sri Krishnamurthi

A JOURNALIST LOST HIS work permit in Vanuatu in what many believe is an attack on media freedom. On Nov. 7, Dan McGarry, media director of the Vanuatu Daily Post Group, announced that his application for a work permit was rejected after 16 years in the country. McGarry believes that pressure from China was behind the rejection.

“This all began when we broke a story about how six Chinese nationals had been detained without trial or access to legal counsel,” said McGarry. “Four of them had their Vanuatu citizenship unlawfully revoked without ever seeing the inside

“In July, 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.

of a courtroom. All of them were summarily deported to face prosecution in China,”

“In July, the prime minister [Chariot Salwai] summoned me and berated me for my ‘negative’ reporting,’ said McGarry. “‘If you don’t like it here,’ he told me, ‘go home.’ But Vanuatu is my home."

Within days of these reports surfacing, complaints were lodged with the Media Association of Vanuatu about the Daily Post’s ‘negative’ reporting. No evidence was provided to support these complaints, but the timing leaves little question as to how and why they came about.

Said McGarry, “The government can dress it up any way they like, but the evidence is clear: This is an attack on a free and independent media in Vanuatu. But Vanuatu is not Hong Kong, and it’s not China. This fight isn’t over yet . . . by a long shot,” he said.

McGarry’s employers, Trading Post Ltd, were just as surprised with the decision and pledged to support him. The Daily Post rejects the allegations, and is of the opinion that the decision is illegitimate and flawed on its own merits. They intend to fight it.

McGarry has received support from the Media Association of Vanuatu and its 89 members, which have urged Prime Minister Salwai to take a close look at all the contributions the Vanuatu Media Industry has made and all that McGarry has done in promoting the development policies and projects over the last four years of the government.

The Director of the Pacific Media Center and editor of Pacific Media Watch, Professor David Robie, also condemned the action by Vanuatu, saying it was “outrageous authoritarianism” and called for the visa to be granted.

“Dan McGarry is one of the leading investigative journalists in Vanuatu and the Pacific and has a commitment to development values,” Professor David Robie said. “Dan has also been a strong media freedom advocate . . . publishing the truth and holding the powerful to account. His loss to Vanuatu would be a huge loss to the region as well a loss to Vanuatu."

He vowed to continue his fight to stay in Vanuatu and maintain standards of a free and independent media. “I’m gutted, personally. I’ve devoted 16 years of my life to this country’s development,” said McGarry, a Canadian who was in the process of getting Vanuatuan citizenship.

“But the groundswell of support we’ve seen, both at home and overseas, is heart warming and humbling,” he said. “We will pursue this appeal aggressively, and fight for justice to the last.”

Sri Krishnamurthi is a journalist with the Pacific Media Center’s Institute for Pacific Research. This article is republished from Asia Pacific Report.