Foreign ministers from the Pacific Islands Forum nations gather in Sydney Australia this week. The meeting's primary focus is disaster management. A timely subject as Cyclone Nangka threatens the Northern Marianas and after Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu earlier this year. But politics will also come up, amid concerns over basic rights in two Pacific Island democracies. More from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.
Last week, New Zealand's parliament unanimously approved a motion expressing concern about Nauru, where five members of parliament have been suspended for speaking with foreign news media. Last month, three MP’s were arrested at a protest outside parliament; two of them remain in jail and the third has been told he cannot leave the country. The government has also shut down access to Facebook and other social media sites. A government statement expressed thanks to New Zealand for aid, but Justice Minister David Adeang deplored what he called rash statements by some New Zealand MPS. He said "Contrary to some reports in some sections of the media, there is certainly no breakdown of democracy or any other turmoil in Nauru.”
Questions are also being raised about Vanuatu, where new Prime Minister Sato Kilman is drafting a law to control the media. After a review of what he described as defamatory statements against him in newspapers, on radio, and on social media, the Prime Minister said, "Let's put an end to this nonsense." He reiterated his support for freedom of expression, but then went on to warn media owners and the public that they should not take those words literally.