5 March 2002


Tonga-based editor and reporter charged

Incident details

Laucala Pohiva, Mateni Tapueluelu


(PINA/IFEX) - A Tonga-based editor and reporter from the "Times of Tonga" have been charged by police following reports about the alleged wealth of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reported on 4 March 2002. The weekly "Times of Tonga" is published in Auckland, New Zealand, but circulates widely in the kingdom of Tonga as well as among New Zealand's large Tongan community.

The "Times of Tonga"'s Tonga-based editor, Mateni Tapueluelu, will appear in the Magistrate's Court in the capital, Nuku'alofa. He is charged with defaming the king, AFP reported, quoting the newspaper. Defamation is a criminal offence in Tonga. Reporter Laucala Pohiva is charged with knowingly dealing with a forged letter, AFP said.

Pohiva is the daughter of ŒAkilisi Pohiva, a leading pro-democracy member of the kingdom's Legislative Assembly. Pohiva's son, Po'oia, and pro-democracy movement official ŒIsi Pulu were earlier also charged with dealing with a forged letter.

In January the pro-democracy movement newsletter "Kele'a" sparked widespread debate and controversy in Tonga by publishing what it said was a 1991 letter from a now deceased palace secretary. The letter allegedly detailed US$350 million held by the king in offshore bank accounts. The Tongan government has strongly denied these claims and said at the time that the letter did not appear to be genuine. A leading pro-democracy campaigner has since said the letter could be a forgery. Tapueluelu was quoted in media reports as saying the "Times of Tonga" reported on the controversy as a matter of public interest and had published the disputed letter for this reason.

Earlier, the government's "Tonga Chronicle" reported that the king was being blackmailed over claims he had recovered millions of dollars in gold from a nineteenth century shipwreck, AFP said.

The controversy came in the leadup to elections in the kingdom, where the Legislative Assembly is dominated by the king's ministers and representatives of the "nobles". But it also includes what are called "Peoples representatives", elected by Tonga's "commoners".

Background Information

Authorities in Tonga regard the "Times of Tonga" as being aligned with the pro-democracy movement. The newspaper's staff have faced a number of police investigations and court actions over reports in the newspaper (see IFEX alerts of 9 February 2001, 3 April and 10 March 1998, 24 June 1997 and 20 September 1996). While the pro-democracy movement is active in the kingdom, the king personally also has considerable public support.

In recent weeks there have been diplomatic clashes between Tonga and New Zealand, a major aid donor, following allegations by a New Zealand minister of endemic corruption in the kingdom. New Zealand news media have featured reports about the wealth and multi-million dollar business interests of the king's oldest son, the crown prince, and the king's daughter.


Pacific Islands News Association
Level 2, 46 Gordon Street, Damodar Centre
Private Mail Bag, Suva
Fiji Islands
pina (@) connect.com.fj
Fax:+679 3317055
More from Tonga
  • Freedom of the Press 2016: Tonga

  • Freedom of the Press 2015: Tonga

    Ranked 57th in annual global media freedom report

  • World Press Freedom Index 2014: Tonga

    Ranked 63rd in annual press freedom index

More from Asia & Pacific


  • The Campaign for Justice: Press Freedom in South Asia 2013-14

    Journalism in South Asia is far from an easy profession, as the 12th annual review of journalism in the region "The Campaign for Justice: Press Freedom in South Asia 2013-14" portrays. But this year's report also tells the story of the courage of South Asia's journalists to defend press freedom and to ensure citizens' right to information and freedom of expression in the face of increasing challenges to the profession and personal safety.

  • THE STORIES WOMEN JOURNALISTS TELL: Women in Media in South Asia

    The report is the first created by the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) looking specifically at the experience of women journalists in the South Asia sub-region