The government’s February 2003 ban on the bi-weekly paper Taimi ’o Tonga was declared illegal and a violation of the national constitution by the Tonga Supreme Court on 26 May. Chief Justice Gordon Ward, who is British, said the government’s repeated efforts to ban the paper were thinly-veiled attempts to curb press freedom. Ward also suspended the government’s cancellation of the paper’s publishing licence and the latest issue should be freely on sale throughout the country on 28 May. In the days before the court decision, the authorities tried to ban foreigners from owning local newspapers. Taimi ’o Tonga’s publisher, Kalafi Moala, is a Tonga-born US citizen.
04.03.2003 Five accused of contempt of court for criticising ban on newspaper
Two journalists and three human rights activists have been accused of "contempt of court" by the state prosecutor in Tonga after the screening of a debate by the privately-owned TV channel Oceania Broadcasting Network in which they questioned the legality of a ban imposed in February on the country’s only privately-owned newspaper, the twice-weekly Taimi ’o Tonga.
The two journalists are Sangster Saulala, the head of Oceania Broadcasting Network, and Tavake Fusimalohi, the former head of the Tonga Broadcast Commission. The three others named in the accusation are Lopeti Senituli, Rev. Seimote Vea and Ofa Simiki, all of the Tonga Human rights and Democracy Movement. The supreme court is meanwhile examining an appeal by Taimi ’o Tonga’s editor against the ban.
02.27.2003 Newspaper banned for criticising government
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) protested today at the Tongan government’s ban on the privately-owned biweekly paper Taimi ’o Tonga (Times of Tonga), which recently denounced corruption and a decision by King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV to build a cigarette factory.
"The government’s ban earlier this week on importing the paper from New Zealand, where it is published, threatens the right of Tongans to independent news," the organisation said, calling on the prime minister, Prince ’Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, to reverse the decision and allow the paper into the country.
Kalafi Moala, the paper’s publisher, who was deported to New Zealand in1995, learned of the ban in a letter from the Tonga customs chief, Siosiua ’Utoikamanu, according to the Associated Press. He said he would appeal against the decision, which has meant laying off six of the paper’s eight journalists in Tonga.
Supporters of the king circulated a petition in January last year calling for the Times of Tonga to be banned. In March, the paper’s editor was charged with libelling the king.
"They’ve been trying to shut us down for 14 years and this ban definitely puts the paper under threat of closure," said Moala, who set up the paper’s headquarters in Auckland (New Zealand). In 1996, he was banned from travelling to Tonga.