Pacific Media Watch

14 June 2013

TONGA: Newspaper given heavy fine after defaming Prime Minister

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Tongan Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano reacted angrily to a letter published in the newspaper Kele'a. Image: Pacific Scoop

AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch / Radio New Zealand International): A Tongan newspaper has been found guilty of defaming the Prime Minister.

Lord Tu’ivakano and six cabinet ministers brought the case against the pro-democracy Kele’a newspaper for a letter to the editor in October 2012 that accused some parliamentarians of being above the law, Radio New Zealand International reports. 

Radio and TV Tonga reports the editor of Kele’a, Mateni Tapueluelu, and his wife, Laucala, who is the publisher, were fined US$69,000 each in damages and costs.

An MP, ’Akilisi Pohiva, represented the letter-writer, Solomone Palu, who was ordered to pay more than US$34,000.

The plaintiffs included the Justice Minister, Clive Edwards, who says the letter was scandalous and accused Pohiva of being behind it.

“It’s one of the most ridiculous cases that have been raised and it’s all political. How can you call somebody a thief, a criminal and not fit to be a minister or Prime Minister because he is a crook.”

According to Matangi Tonga the "court was told that the letter alluded to how some were blessed by the fact the law would not touch them. It referred to a decision to pay out $34 million of government money and stated it was wrong."

The letter went on to suggest that if the same action had been done by non-government people, they would have been taken to court. 

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