17 March 2000


Court hears accusations about bid to hire assassin to kill Samoan editor-publisher

Incident details

Savea Sano Malife

On 16 March 2000, the "Samoa Observer" reported accusations made in court that a former Samoan government minister tried to hire an assassin to kill the paper's award-winning editor-publisher. The former minister, Leafa Vitale, denied inciting a person by the name of Leutufia Ioane to shoot editor-publisher Savea Sano Malifa, the paper reported.

In the Supreme Court, Prosecution Counsel Kieren Raftery asked Leafa - who is on trial for the murder of a former cabinet colleague - if he had recruited Leutufia to kill Malifa and another businessman seven years ago. Leafa denied the statement. He insisted he did not know anything about this because nothing like that had ever happened.

The "Samoa Observer" said Raftery told the court that Leafa's attempts failed because Leutufia refused Leafa's offer. The fifty-seven-year-old Leafa, also denied threatening to shoot another journalist, Molesi Taumaoe.

The paper reported that Leafa admitted abusing Molesi verbally because he had written some "untrue" things about him in the "Samoa Post" newspaper. He told the court that at one stage, he went up to Molesi's office and told him: "This anus behaviour will cause a punch to your mouth."

Leafa is a former minister for works, electric power, post and telecommunications and women's affairs. He and another former minister, Toi Aokuso Cain, deny the murder of Cabinet Minister Luagalau Levaula Kamu. Leafa's son has already been convicted of the killing.


The "Samoa Observer", which was founded by Malifa and his wife Jean, is Samoa's only daily newspaper and its main independent news voice. In recent years, Samoa's independent news media and journalists faced heavy pressure after highlighting stories alleging 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highly suspicious circumstances; Malifa was assaulted by relatives of a government minister; government advertising was withdrawn from the newspaper; threats were made to impose newspaper licensing; and a law was introduced requiring journalists in libel actions to reveal their sources.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 have faced a series of criminal and civil libel cases, and injunction actions to prevent them from publishing information (see IFEX alerts).

Malifa and his wife Jean are previous winners of the PINA Pacific Freedom of Information award, Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) Astor Award and "INDEX on Censorship" press freedom award.


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