10 March 1998


Tongan Pro-Democracy parliamentarian, publisher cleared of criminal libel

Incident details

Akilisi Pohiva



(PINA/IFEX) - Tongan Pro-Democracy Movement parliamentarian and publisher
Akilisi Pohiva has been acquitted by the kingdom's Supreme Court of a
criminal libel charge brought against him by the government. The charge
followed a 1994 interview Pohiva gave to the United States' newspaper, the
"Wall Street Journal", and comments he later made in his own publication,

The charge alleged that Pohiva called Tongan King Taufa'ahau Tupou "a
dictator" and accused him of "financial legerdemain" over the proceeds of
sales of Tongan passports to foreigners and revenues of Tongasat. Tongasat
is a company controlled by the King's daughter, Princess Pilolevu Tuita,
which leases out international satellite positions that have been claimed by

Justice Daniel Finnigan, in a judgment delivered in the Tongan capital
Nuku'alofa on 5 March 1998, which reached Fiji on 9 March, said he was
satisfied Pohiva did not allege financial trickery. Pohiva was instead
seeking greater accountability from the King and the government.

According to Justice Finnigan, Pohiva's claims seemed in general to be
legally and/or factually correct. Finnigan also said he could not convict
Pohiva over the "Wall Street Journal" article: "In its entirety the article
is the journalist's own account constructed from what he was told. The
journalist's words in my view are not a sufficient basis for the criminal
charge that the accused spoke defamatory words."

Finnigan also said all parties agreed the King governed according to the
constitution. "To say that he is a dictator is factually and legally wrong,"
the judge said. "The constitution protects many freedoms from oppression by
royal prerogative."

Background Information

Pohiva, "Kele'a," and staff of the pro-democracy weekly newspaper "Times of
Tonga", which is published in New Zealand, have been the subjects of a
number of legal actions in the kingdom.

On 14 October 1996, Pohiva, Kalafi Moala, editor/publisher of the "Times of
Tonga", and deputy editor Filokalafi 'Akau'ola were released from prison
after serving 24 days of a 30-day term for alleged contempt of the
Legislative Assembly. This followed publication in the "Times of Tonga" of
an impeachment motion against the Minister of Justice which had not yet been
tabled in the Legislative Assembly (for more information on this case see
IFEX alerts of 20 September 1996, 14 and 16 October 1996).

Chief Justice Nigel Hampton ruled that the Legislative Assembly had breached
several constitutional provisions in convicting the trio of contempt and
ordered their release. His decision was upheld by the Tongan Court of
Appeal. The Legislative Assembly consists of nine peoples' representatives
elected by Tonga's commoners, nine noble representatives elected by the
kingdom's noble families, and 12 Cabinet ministers appointed by the King.


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