12 September 1997


Two "Samoa Observer" journalists ordered to pay Prime Minister's costs for adjournment

Incident details

Savea Sano Malifa, Fuimaono Fereti Tupua


legal action

(PINA/IFEX) - A court in Samoa, on 11 September 1997, ordered the
publisher and Samoan-language editor of the "Samoa Observer"
newspaper to pay the Prime Minister $WS500 each because they
wanted an adjournment in a criminal libel case against them.
Magistrate Tagaloa Enoka Puni said Prime Minister Tofilau Eti
Alesana would be greatly inconvenienced by the late adjournment
application and was entitled to reimbursement for his costs.

**Updates IFEX alerts dated 11 July and 24 June 1997**

"Samoa Observer" publisher Savea Sano Malifa and Samoan-language
editor Fuimaono Fereti Tupua are charged with the criminal libel
of Tofilau over a letter to the editor published in the 6 June
edition of the paper. Their lawyer, Patrick Fepulea'i, petitioned
for the delay to give them time to bring in a New Zealand lawyer
better versed in handling libel cases. Tofilau's lawyer,
Katalaina Sapolu, strongly opposed the adjournment application.
She said the Prime Minister and ministers of his Cabinet who
would give evidence were in court and ready to proceed.
Magistrate Puni said that, even though Malifa and Tupua had been
given time to prepare for the trial, it was important they were
properly represented in court.

The trial has now been set for 17 November. The magistrate warned
there would be no further adjournments except if he, the Prime
Minister or Malifa or Tupua were taken ill.

Under the criminal libel law, Malifa and Tupua could be jailed
for up to six months.

Background Information

The daily "Samoa Observer" is the main independent news media
outlet in a country in which what is broadcast by the national
radio and television services is heavily government controlled.
Malifa, the "Samoa Observer" and staff face criminal and civil
defamation actions launched by members of the government or
executives of government-owned organisations. They include a
$WS500,000 civil claim by Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana and
the charge of defamatory libel of Tofilau under the Crimes
Ordinance. (Tofilau is a chiefly title and is how he is known in
Samoa after the first reference.) On 20 June 1997, Tofilau told
Parliament that he would change the law so the "Samoa Observer"'s
business licence could be taken away "for stirring up trouble."
In separate incidents not linked to Tofilau, in 1994, the "Samoa
Observer"'s editorial offices, printing plant and press were
burned down in mysterious circumstances believed by many to be
retaliation for the newspaper's reporting of allegations of
corruption. As well, Malifa and his family have been threatened
and Malifa himself assaulted by relatives of a government
minister (see IFEX alerts).


Pacific Islands News Association
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Fiji Islands
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