World Bulletin / News Desk
Three opposition lawmakers in the tiny South Pacific island nation of Nauru have been indefinitely suspended from Parliament for criticising the government to foreign journalists, the Attorney General's office said on Thursday.
But the lawmakers deny wrongdoing and call the move further evidence of authoritarianism in Nauru, which earlier this year sacked its entire judiciary and set steep fees for visas that effectively barred foreign media from the country.
Nauru, a speck in the Pacific about 4,500 km (2,800 miles) northeast of Australia with just 10,000 citizens, also hosts a controversial Australian immigration detention centre that has been called inhumane by the United Nations and rights groups.
The MPs - Mathew Batsiua, Kieren Keke and Roland Kun - have been suspended for what Attorney General David Adeang called unspecified comments intended to "inflict maximum damage to Nauru's reputation".
In a statement, Adeang said, "There is a place to argue your point and that is here in the parliament. These MPs have done what no other country would deem acceptable - use the foreign media to trash our international reputation."
But Batsiua called the move a politically motivated attempt by President Baron Waqa's government to avoid scrutiny of its policies, especially those relating to the detention centre.
"I challenge them to point out which law we have breached," Batsiua told Reuters. "They seem hell-bent on trying to prevent any kind of scrutiny on their actions."
The detention centre, like a similar facility in Papua New Guinea, houses more than 1,000 refugees from war-torn areas who have been denied the right to seek asylum in Australia under a hard-line policy to deter people arriving in rickety boats.
Waqa this year unilaterally sacked the nation's entire judiciary and hiked the cost of applying for a one-visit journalist visa to A$8,000 ($7,500) from A$200, moves critics called an attack on democracy.
Critics have accused Australia, the region's foreign policy powerhouse, of not speaking out as forcefully as it usually would in such cases, for fear it could lose access to the detention centre.
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of Australia's opposition Greens Party urged the government to shutter the "untenable" facility.
"The Nauruan Parliament is clearly unstable and should not be responsible for a multi-billion dollar detention camp with women and children locked inside," she said in a statement.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop strongly criticised the suspensions on Thursday.
"I encourage the government of Nauru to uphold the fundamental values of a robust democracy, including freedom of speech," she told Reuters in a statement.
"Parliamentarians are encouraged to engage in robust political debate for it is the contest of ideas that underpins democracy."Last Mod: 15 Mayıs 2014, 15:46