2 Apr 2003

Five people in Tonga charged with contempt of court

4:35 pm on 2 April 2003

Five people have been charged in Tonga with contempt of court after appearing on a television programme discussing the prohibition of the Taimi O Tonga newspaper.

Three are members of Tonga's Human Rights and Democracy movement, including the director, Lopeti Senituli, while a journalist and the general manager of the tv station were also served writs.

The Niu Vakai programme highlighted the issues of the banning of the Taimi O Tonga newspaper from the country.

The decision to prohibit the paper from being imported is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court with a judgement expected by the end of the week.

Mr Senituli explains the details of the charge.

"I was served with a writ giving notice that the Attorney General is going to the Supreme Court seeking a motion to commit us for contempt of court and that's myself and three other people who participated in the Niu Vakai programme on the 12th of March and also the general manager of the television station, that's the Oceania Broadcasting network."

The others charged include the Reverend Seimote Vea, Mrs Ofa Simiki, Tavaki Fusimalohe, the presenter of the programme and Sangster Saulala, the general manager of the tv network.

Meanwhile, Akilisi Pohiva, the movement's secretary, says he believes the government is attempting to protect its position by suppressing freedom of expression.

Mr Pohiva says this is not the first time the government has taken action over the media.

There has been a series of instances that really show not only to the Tongans but to the rest of the world the position of our government. The pressure for change that has been for a long period of time makes people feel that they have to stop or they have to do something to discourage those people who are pushing for change.

The banning of the paper and the charging of the five comes as the U.S. State Department releases its annual human rights report where it criticises the lack of democracy in Tonga.

The report also says the government's human rights record is poor.