3 April 1998


'Akilisi Pohiva convicted of defamation in Tonga

Incident details

'Akilisi Pohiva


legal action

(PINA/IFEX) - Tongan Pro-Democracy Movement Member of Parliament and
publisher 'Akilisi Pohiva was convicted of two defamation charges and
fined in the Magistrate's Court in the Tongan capital, Nuku'alofa, on 30
March 1998.

**Updates IFEX alert dated 10 March 1998**

Magistrate Vusenga Helu fined Pohiva 500 pa'anga ($US 336), or in default
six months' imprisonment, on the first charge, Radio Tonga reported. It
said the court ruled as defamatory comments about the Minister of Police,
published in 1997 in the "Times of Tonga", a pro-democracy weekly
newspaper published in Auckland, New Zealand.

Pohiva was also fined 500 pa'anga ($US 336), or in default six months'
imprisonment, for another article published in the October/November 1997
issue of "Kele'a", the Pro-Democracy Movement publication he publishes.
The "Kele'a" article also was found by the court to contain defamatory
references to the Minister of Police, "Radio Tonga" said.

Magistrate Helu ordered that both fines be paid within one week.

Background Information

On 5 March 1998, Pohiva was 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 a United States newspaper, the
"Wall Street Journal", and comments he later made in "Kele'a". The charge
alleged that Pohiva called 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, a company which leases
out international satellite positions claimed by Tonga.

On 14 October 1996, Pohiva, "Times of Tonga" editor/publisher Kalafi
Moala and deputy editor Filokalafi 'Akau'ola were released from prison
after serving 24 days of a 30-day sentence for alleged contempt of the
kingdom's 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 assembly (for more information on this
case see IFEX alerts of 20 September 1996, 14 and 16 October 1996).

Chief Justice Nigel Hampton ruled the assembly breached several
constitutional provisions in convicting the trio. 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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