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Pacific News Minute: Judge Throws Out Case Against the “Nauru 19”

Wikimedia Commons

Last week, while Nauru hosted the annual summit of the Pacific Islands Forum, the government suffered an important legal setback. A judge dismissed all charges in the long-running case of the so-called “Nauru 19” and issued a scathing condemnation of the government.

Australian Judge Geoffrey Muecke excoriated the government in general and Justice Minister David Adeang in particular for actions that he said amounted to “a shameful affront to the rule of law.” He concluded that the government hadalready determined the defendants guilt, and would do anything it could to convict them.

A fair trial was not possible, Justice Muecke ruled, and he granted a permanent stay, the equivalent of dismissing all charges. The government says it will appeal.

The case stems from a protest three years ago, after the government suspended three members of parliament for giving interviews critical of the government to foreign media outlets. A crowd that gathered outside the parliament building spilled onto the runway of the airport next door – a flight had to be canceled and some windows were broken by rocks.

The nineteen arrested included members of parliament, a former foreign minister and a former president. In effect, much of Nauru’s political opposition. 

Credit Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Justice Minister David Adeang

Because there are so few jurists among Nauru’s tiny population, judges are often brought in from the outside and Geoffrey Muecke, the retired chief justice of South Australia, was hired specifically to hear this case. After he ordered the government to pay some of the defendants legal expenses this summer, Justice Minister Adeang vowed to extract the funds from the defendants after their convictions – used a racial slur to attack their lawyers, and he threatened the judge.

"Maybe,” he said, “we have to deal with Justice Muecke.”

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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