Nauru President Says Opposition and Foreign Media Tried to Topple Government

By Matt Siegel 26 June 2015

SYDNEY — The president of the South Pacific island nation of Nauru on Friday said opposition lawmakers and foreign media had attempted to overthrow his government and that three arrested MPs face criminal charges over a protest outside parliament.

President Baron Waqa made the claim amid mounting international criticism for banning Facebook, limiting political speech and assembly and the suspension from parliament of several popular opposition lawmakers.

Nauru has come under fire in recent years over allegations of corruption and human rights abuses and is key to Australia’s controversial immigration policy, with Canberra funding a US$1.54 billion detention center on the island.

Waqa said the newly arrested lawmakers—former president Sprent Dabwido, Mathew Batsuia and Squire Jeremiah—sparked a riot last week outside of parliament with the aim of disrupting and ultimately toppling the government.

“The organizers were not fighting for freedom of speech. They were trying to topple a democratically elected government in order to further their thirst for political power,” Waqa said in a statement.

“The foreign media appear blinded by this, and continue to support the criminal actions of these MPs, who were thrown out of office by the people of Nauru for corruption.”

Video of the alleged riot posted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), however, appears to only show several hundred fairly well behaved people milling outside of parliament.

Nauru is a speck in the Pacific about 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles) northeast of Australia with 10,000 citizens and little economy since the depletion of its rich phosphate mines in the 1980s.

Last year Nauru instituted a non-refundable $7,000 visa fee for journalists wishing to visit the country, making it all but impossible to independently verify facts on the ground.

Nauru, which has little income beyond the detention center, has long been dogged by allegations of corruption throughout its government.

The Australian Federal Police told Reuters last week that they were investigating Australian miner Getax, following an ABC report that it may have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Waqa and Justice Minister David Adeang.

Last year Nauru became embroiled in a constitutional crisis following the deportation of the nation’s Chief Justice and Solicitor General, leading nearly the entire remaining judiciary to resign in solidarity.

Waqa told Reuters at the time that criticism of the deportations were an attack on the former Australian colony’s sovereignty.