19 December 2003


The Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) have raised concerns that constitutional amendments signed by Tonga's King Taufaahau Tupou IV will effectively snuff out freedom of expression in the island nation.

On 5 December, the King signed into law constitutional amendments that allow authorities to ban a media outlet if it violates cultural traditions and the right to privacy, PINA reports. "When you go through the list of infringements, and the vagueness of all of them, there is absolutely no freedom of speech," says Kalafi Moala, the publisher of Tonga's only independent newspaper "Taimi o Tonga."

The approval of the amendments also reinstates a ban on the newspaper that was struck down by a Supreme Court ruling last May. Critics of the move, including RSF, say the amendments are aimed at silencing the New Zealand-based newspaper, which has been a thorn in the side of the government.

King Taufaahau also signed into law two bills - the Newspaper Act and the Media Operators Act - that give the government broad licencing powers over the media. In effect, they allow authorities to decide who may report on Tongan affairs, says PINA.

RSF says it will lobby the European Union to apply sanctions on Tonga under the Cotonou Convention, a trade agreement between the EU and former colonies. Under Article 96 of the convention, sanctions can be applied when a signatory fails to "respect human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law."

For more information, contact:

- RSF: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/55564/
- PINA: pinacd@connect.com.fj

- Index on Censorship: http://www.indexonline.org/indexindex/20030402_tonga.shtml
- Pacific Media Watch: http://www.pmw.c2o.org/2003/tongadraftmediaresp.html
- Taimi o Tonga: http://www.planet-tonga.com/tongatimes/
For updates on the situation in Tonga, visit: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/171/

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