17 Jun 2004

Challenge to changes to Tonga's Constitution go to court in August

4:26 pm on 17 June 2004

Amendments made to the Tongan Constitution last year are to be legally challenged in the courts on the 30th August.

After a series of failed attempts last year to ban the Auckland- produced, Taimi O'Tonga newspaper, the Government amended clause seven of the Constitution.

The changes allowed the passing of the controversial Media Operator's and the Newspaper Acts, which critics say limit press freedom and freedom of speech.

The Taimi no longer qualifies for a licence and is not allowed to be sold in Tonga.

Four plaintiffs, the publisher of the Taimi O'Tonga, Kalafi Moala, the leading pro-democracy MP in Tonga, Akilisi Pohiva, the former editor of Kelea Newpaper, Po'oi Pohiva, Fred Sevele and others, are seeking a judicial review of the changes.

The Editor of the Taimi, Mateni Tapueluelu, says if the court case fails, it will be a major blow to freedom of the speech in Tonga.

"We will still continue to operate from Tonga as freelance reporters, sending news to our headquarters in Auckland, but the fight for freedom, in my opinion, will take somewhat a different form, not strictly legal, or it will shift from there to perhaps civil disobedience and the like."

The Editor of the Taimi O Tonga, Mateni Tapueluelu, says there is now only one independent newspaper left in Tonga which can report on the constitutional challenge.