14 May 1998


New threats in Samoa

Incident details

Molesi Taumaoe


(PINA/IFEX) - On 12 May 1998, Lance Polu, president of the Journalists
Association of Western Samoa, said he will seek a meeting with Samoa's Prime
Minister, Tofilau Eti Alesana, over death threats a Government minister
allegedly made to Molesi Taumaoe. Taumaoe is the Samoa-based assistant
editor of the weekly Samoan-language newspaper "Samoa Post."
Taumaoe reported on 11 May 1998, that he feared for his life after being
confronted by Telecommunications Minister Leafa Vitale. The Minister was
reported to have come to the "Samoa Post" office in the Samoan capital of
Apia, after hearing of a letter the newspaper had in its possession. Taumaoe
alleged the Minister threatened to shoot him, and quoted Vitale as saying:
"I hate lies, the only thing that could possibly happen as a result is a
bullet in the head. I am the kind of guy who hires a hit man if I cannot do
it myself."

The letter contained allegations against Vitale. It had not been printed by
the "Samoa Post", which is published in Auckland, New Zealand, and
distributed in both Samoa and New Zealand, where there is a large Samoan
community. PINA understands the letter was sent from the "Samoa Post"
Auckland office to Taumaoe, who runs the paper's Samoa office, to check the
facts alleged in the letter.

Polu called the incident diabolical and said he would try to meet with the
Prime Minister Tofilau as soon as he returns from his current trip to
Europe. Polu said this is not the first time Vitale has threatened
journalists. He said the minister previously threatened Savea Sano Malifa,
the editor/publisher of the Apia daily newspaper "Samoa Observer."

Background Information

In recent years Samoa's independent news media and journalists have faced
increasing pressure after highlighting stories alleging growing corruption
and abuse of public office. The "Samoa Observer" printing plant was burnt
down under highly suspicious circumstances; Malifa was assaulted by
relatives of a government minister; government advertising was withdrawn
from the newspaper; threats were made to impose newspaper licensing; and a
law was introduced requiring journalists in libel actions to reveal their
sources. The "Samoa Observer" and its staff currently face criminal and
civil libel actions. Government ministers have also discussed withdrawing
the license of the country's only independent radio station which carries
news bulletins. The government-run national radio and TV services are
heavily government-controlled and the government restricts the Opposition's
access to them (see IFEX alerts).

Recommended Action

Send appeals to Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana:

  • reminding him that the world is celebrating the 50th anniversary of
    19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads: "Everyone has
    the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom
    to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart
    information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers"
  • expressing serious concern over reports of the threats by
    Telecommunications Minister Leafa Vitale
  • urging him to condemn any such threats and take appropriate action against
    anyone who makes them

    Appeals To

    The Honourable Tofilau Eti Alesana
    Prime Minister of Samoa
    Fax: +685 21504
    (Please note: Tofilau is a chiefly title. After the first reference, the
    Prime Minister should then be referred to only as Tofilau)

    Please copy appeals to Lance Polu, President, Journalists Association of
    Western Samoa
    Fax: +685 23827

  • Source

    Pacific Islands News Association
    Level 2, 46 Gordon Street, Damodar Centre
    Private Mail Bag, Suva
    Fiji Islands
    pina (@) connect.com.fj
    Fax:+679 3317055
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