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Amnesty International Report 1997 - Tonga

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Tonga, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9ff40.html [accessed 2 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Three journalists and three pro-democracy activists were detained for the non-violent exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

In January, ‘Akilisi Pohiva, leader of the pro-democracy movement, was elected "Number 1 People's Representative for Tongatapu" in the Legislative Assembly elections for the nine minority members who are elected by 99 per cent of the population. The majority of the Assembly's members are appointed by King Taufa ‘Ahau Tupou iv or elected by the Nobles.

Filini Sikuea, a pro-democracy election candidate, Vaha'akolo Fonofehi, a writer for the Times of Tonga newspaper, and Filokalafi ‘Akau'ola, the newspaper's deputy editor, were arrested in February for "inciting Police Minister Clive Edwards to anger". The arrests followed a police raid on the newspaper's office after the publication of a letter criticizing the Minister. Vaha'akolo Fonofehi and Filini Sikuea were reportedly detained by police for five days. Filokalafi ‘Akau'ola was released after 26 hours. In March, a court decided to have the charges against Vaha'akolo Fonofehi dropped, but Filokalafi ‘Akau'ola and Filini Sikuea were reportedly given 18- and 12-month prison terms, respectively. The sentences were suspended on good behaviour bonds.

In September, Filokalafi ‘Akau'ola, who was still under the good behaviour bond, Kalafi Moala, editor of the Times of Tonga, and ‘Akilisi Pohiva, were imprisoned by the Legislative Assembly for their role in peaceful public criticism of the Minister of Justice. The three had been charged by the Minister of Justice with "libelling the Legislative Assembly" following publication, in the Times of Tonga of 4 September, of an impeachment motion which accused the Minister of visiting the Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA, without parliament's authorization. The government claimed that the motion had not been formally submitted before publication, although the Secretary of the People's Representatives in parliament reportedly lodged the motion on 23 August. The Assembly, allegedly including the Minister of Justice, voted to pass the maximum sentence for the charge provided for in the Constitution – 30 days' imprisonment. In October, the Supreme Court ordered the early release of the three prisoners, stating that their detention resulted from an unfair trial in breach of the Constitution and the Rules of the House. However, the Court did not rescind their conviction, stating that only the Legislative Assembly could rule on whether there was a case of contempt to answer. The Legislative Assembly appealed to the Court of Appeal for examination of the Supreme Court's judgment, but no date for the hearing had been set by the of the year.

In November, police again detained ‘Akilisi Pohiva and Filokalafi ‘Akau'ola, and also detained Teisina Fuko, a member of the Legislative Assembly. They were questioned about newspaper articles criticizing the undemocratic nature of the system of government. Filokalafi ‘Akau'ola was released the same day. Police threatened ‘Akilisi Pohiva and Teisina Fuko with charges of sedition and defamation, but they were released after 24 hours following media reports of their detention. No formal charges had been laid against them by the end of the year.

In September, Amnesty International wrote to King Taufa ‘Ahau Tupou IV, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of ‘Akilisi Pohiva, Filokalafi ‘Akau'ola and Kalafi Moala, whom it considered prisoners of conscience. In October, Amnesty International welcomed their release but expressed concern at the long-term issues raised by the government's moves to restrict the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in Tonga's Constitution. In November, the organization expressed concern over the repeated detention of two of the men.

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