A leading Pacific journalist who claimed he was barred from returning to Vanuatu over his reporting of the island nation’s ties to China says he has successfully appealed the travel ban in “a win for media freedom.”

Former Vanuatu Daily Post media director Dan McGarry was stopped from boarding a flight from Brisbane to Port Vila last month, saying he suspected Vanuatu’s government was angry at his coverage of China’s growing influence in the Pacific nation.

McGarry, a Canadian national who has lived in Vanuatu for 16 years, insisted he had done nothing wrong and took his case to the Supreme Court.

He said the court on Tuesday ruled the travel ban was unlawful, clearing the way for him to join his partner and two young daughters in Vanuatu after more than a month apart.

“I’m grateful that yet again, Vanuatu’s courts have upheld the rule of law, and acted to protect the human rights of all its residents,” McGarry said in a statement.

“This isn’t just a win for media freedom. It should serve as a caution to any government official who tries to bend the bureaucracy to achieve unlawful ends.”

McGarry and the Post have reported extensively about Beijing’s funding of infrastructure projects in Vanuatu, as well as a passports-for-sale scheme in Port Vila that largely involves Chinese nationals.

But he believed the government was most incensed over an expose filed in July about Chinese police entering the country and deporting six criminal suspects – four of whom had Vanuatu passports – without any reference to local courts.

The reports came at a sensitive time as Beijing jostles for influence in the Pacific with traditional regional powers, including the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

McGarry said his priority was to reunite with his family, saying the ordeal had been “incredibly hard on all of us.”

“My youngest girl called me the other day and told me she’d made her Christmas list. Number one was me. It brought her mom and me to tears,” he said.

“Now our Christmas dream is coming true.”

The decision in McGarry’s case has not yet been listed on the Vanuatu Supreme Court’s website and no one from the court was immediately available to confirm details of the case.

– AFP