NUKU’ALOFA (Matangi Tonga Online/ Radio New Zealand International/ Pacific Media Watch): Protesters from various churches in Tonga led by some church leaders have marched to the Palace Office in Nuku’alofa to present four petitions to King Tupou VI.
The petitions were in opposition to Tonga’s intention to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Waving banners and placards, about 500 marchers were led by Reverend Liufau Vailea Saulala of the Tokaikolo Church, Vicar-General Monsignor Lutoviko Fine of the Catholic Church, Pastor Barry Taukolo and Father Seluini ‘Akau’ola, from the Catholic Basilica in the Friday protest.
Church leaders presented the petitions to Lord Luani, the Master of the Royal Household, inside the Palace Office.
One of the organisers of the march, Reverend Ma’afu Palu of the Free Wesleyan Church, said the petitions were from the Tonga Catholic Women’s League, Lotu Hufia ‘a Tonga, Tokaikolo Church, and a group of men from the Eastern District who came forward to support their women against CEDAW.
“We had around 15,000 signatures combined from all petitions presented today."
He said they were marching because they did not want the government of Tonga and Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva to ratify CEDAW.
They were also asking the King not to give his consent to this convention.
“If Tonga allows this convention it will take us back to pre-Christianity,” he claimed, while placards carried by the marchers proclaimed that “CEDAW is a Secret Agent of Satan,” and “CEDAW = 666! Evil!” and “CEDAW go to hell!”.
One placard called for “ ‘Akilisi and your cabinet to step down!”.
Mix of protesters
“This a march of citizens of Tonga, members of Christian churches from the Free Wesleyan Church, Catholic, Pentecostal, Tokaikolo Church, Mo’ui Fo’ou denominations and the Church of Tonga. We also have the support of the church leaders,” Palu said.
Also joining the march were Noble Representatives to Parliament, including the Deputy Speaker Lord Tu’i’afitu, Lord Nuku, Lord Tu’ilakepa and Lord Tu’iha’ateiho.
The assistant president of the Catholic Women’s League, Lady ‘Ainise Sevele and members of the Catholic Church, joined the march.
This was the second march against CEDAW, the first being the Catholic Women’s League which marched on May 19 to Parliament.
Supporters of CEDAW
But Radio New Zealand International reported a group of non-governmental organisations in Tonga was preparing a petition in support for the controversial United Nations (UN) convention.
A women's advocate, Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki, said many people did support the empowerment of women.
She said 13 NGOs had come together under the Civil Society Forum.
Guttenbeil-Likiliki said the group did not have the resources of local churches which had mobilised against CEDAW so the petition would be signed by representatives.
"More strategically we are coming together as heads of organisations that work on the ground, that work with vulnerable groups, that work with women who are not your average privileged Tongan women who have access to all her social, economic, political and cultural rights,” she said.
“We work for the women who have no say, who are voiceless."
The NGO petition is scheduled for submission to Parliament later this week.
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