4 March 1999


Bid to jail "Samoa Observer" publisher and editor

Incident details

Savea Sano Malifa and Aumuagaolo Ropeti Ale

media worker(s)


(PINA/IFEX) - Samoan government-owned Polynesian Airlines is asking the
Samoa Supreme Court to jail "Samoa Observer" publisher Savea Sano Malifa
and editor Aumuagaolo Ropeti Ale for contempt of court. The airline's
application for a writ to arrest Malifa and Ale has been set down for
hearing on 8 March 1999 (local time). It seeks to bring them before the
court to be committed to Apia's Tafaigata Prison.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 26 February, 22 February, 17 February and 25
January 1999**

Polynesian Airlines claims Malifa and Ale disobeyed a Supreme Court
injunction granted to the airline on 15 February and upheld on 24
February. This ordered Malifa, Ale and the "Samoa Observer" not to
publish "any article or story relating to the salaries, remuneration,
allowances and benefits paid to employees and higher ranking officers"
of Polynesian Airlines without the airline's permission. The airline
claims that an opinion piece headlined "Nothing illegal or have
something to hide?" and a letter to the editor headlined "Polynesian and
the IOC", both published in the "Sunday Samoan" of 28 February, breached
the court order. The "Sunday Samoan" is the "Samoa Observer" company's
Sunday edition.

Background Information

On 24 February, a Supreme Court judge refused to lift his injunction
preventing the "Samoa Observer" from publishing leaked details of
allowances and advances paid to senior staff of Polynesian Airlines. On
16 February the 3000-circulation newspaper had been printed, carrying
reports about the allowances and advances plus earlier large financial
losses by the airline. It was about to be distributed when the judge's
injunction was served. As a result the "Samoa Observer" lost all that
day's edition. Malifa said he would appeal against the judge's rulings
because of the "threat of censorship."

The "Samoa Observer", which was founded by Malifa and his wife Jean, is
Samoa's only daily newspaper and main independent news voice. The
government-run national radio and TV services are heavily controlled by
the government. The opposition's access to the government media is
severely restricted.

Independent news media and journalists have faced increasing pressure
after highlighting reports 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; death threats were made to Malifa and his family;
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.

Malifa and the "Observer" continue to face mounting legal costs because
of criminal and civil libel actions against them over their reports and
a letter published in the paper. The government has said it will provide
public money to pay the legal costs of ministers and government leaders
who sue for libel (see IFEX alerts).


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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