tahiti magazine calls for independent inquiry

NEWS The new President of France is being challenged to mount an independent inquiry into alleged judicial corruption in Tahiti stretching back "two generations." Earlier this month, Tahiti Pacifique editor Alex Du Prel issued the challenge in an open letter editorial to the two presidential candidates, Nicholas Sarkozy and Segolene Royale. He accuses parties across the political spectrum of having fallen prey to an "oligarchy" of corrupt politicians who run French Polynesia like their personal "fiefdom" with "impunity." PRO-FRENCH An example used by Tahiti Pacifique, an independent news magazine 15 years old, is that of the former head of controversial "intervention" group, the GIP. Not named in the editorial, former GIP head Leonard "Rere" Puputauki is a stocky, shaven headed player frequently accused of orchestrating public thuggery. Pictures of him sitting in the seat of an elected deputy in the territorial assembly raised eyebrows even among the mostly pro-French press. BLOCKADES Puputauki has been at the centre of a series of blockades of Papeete by GIP agents, many of them former prison inmates, many of them slathered in tatoos - not the traditional tatatau, from whence the name tatoo comes - more like eagles and skulls. Riot police were deployed in Papeete last year to evict blockading GIP agents from public buildings including the midtown presidential palace. Television footage of tear gas and the harsh tramp of heavy boots saw the agents quickly disperse. SPY CELL Set up in November 1997 to respond to hurricanes and other emergencies, the GIP, Groupe d'intervention de la Polynèsie, soon received presidential orders to establish a "spy cell" for surveillance of political friends and enemies. Barely a month later, GIP agents allegedly kidnapped and assassinated former Papeete editor, Jean-Pascal Couraud, known as JPK. L'Affaire JPK centres on allegations that Couraud was taken out by boat, tortured with repeated dunkings to extract information about a leaked dossier of files, and unconscious and weighted with four concrete blocks, dumped overboard one last time, into waters 3,000 metres deep. TIE INFO TO AID The challenge from Tahiti Pacifique comes as delegates at a UNESCO conference on the media issued the "Medellin declaration" from Colombia. Notable was the call for world governments to tie "financial assistance" to efforts to "respect freedom of expression" including by removing any statute of limitations involving media crimes. Tying aid to media freedoms could spark human rights concerns, but journalists in the Pacific Islands have long warned the public that "media freedom is your freedom" - lose one and you lose both. SEE Open letter to presidential candidates Medellin Declaration from UNESCO media convention