March 19, 2007 - 7:49PM
A democracy campaigner in Tonga has warned there could a repeat of last year's devastating riots, after the government extended a state of emergency in the South Pacific nation.
The chairman of the People's Committee for Political Reform, Akilisi Pohiva, said the powers were stifling the activities of pro-democracy activists, leading to anger and frustration.
"There is no reason. There is no justification for the extension" until May 17, Pohiva said.
"The prime minister should appear on television and radio and inform the public the reasons why it is continuing.
"If the government will continue on imposing restrictions on us - representatives of the people and public - that may cause people to uprise again. We hope that this is the last extension."
This is the fourth time the state of emergency has been extended following last year's November riots, which destroyed most of the business centre of the capital, Nuku'alofa, and killed eight people.
The riots broke out amid fears the nation's parliament would delay democratic reforms to the country's semi-feudal system - promised after the death of Tonga's long-serving monarch King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in September.
Pohiva said the state of emergency powers prevented more than four people from his organisation gathering.
"We haven't had meetings for four months now, simply because the members of the executive committee is 20, so we can't have meetings and our program is very much affected by the restrictions," he said.
"We can't go out to the villages and have meetings with people ... we are not happy with the decision made by government.
"It is mainly restricted to the People's Committee for Political Reform. Other meetings such as religious meetings and other groups are allowed."
Tonga's Prime Minister Feleti Sevele last week said part of the country continued to be "seriously threatened" and the emergency powers were needed to maintain order.
"There continues to exist a state of danger," he said.
The damage bill from last year's unrest has been estimated at $A88.5 million. Australia and New Zealand are actively involved in efforts to help the nation recover.
Following last year's unrest, the government agreed to a plan ensuring 21 of the 30 seats in parliament would be elected, starting in 2008.
The king currently appoints the majority of MPs, the prime minister and Cabinet.http://www.smh.com.au/news/World/Prodemocracy-leader-tips-Tonga-unrest/2007/03/19/1174152965126.html
Letter From Suva: DIFFERENT RULES WHEN IT COMES TO FIJI AND TONGA While Australia and New Zealand snuggle up to the non-democratic government in the kingdom, they shun Commodore Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama and Fiji’s interim government.
You really have to wonder about double standards. Fiji is picked on. But there is silence about what is happening in Tonga. Both countries are being ruled under emergency powers. Tonga because of the deadly pro-democracy riot in November and Fiji since the military coup in December.
But while Australia and New Zealand snuggle up to the non-democratic government in the kingdom, they shun Commodore Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama and Fiji’s interim government.
Yet Bainimarama’s interim government is arguably far more representative of the people than Prime Minister Feleti Sevele’s royal-selected government across in Tonga.
And if some of the things happening in Tonga these days under emergency rule happened in Fiji, there would be an international outcry from the Howards, Clarks, Downers and Peters of this world.
When they happen in Tonga, there is silence, not just from Australia and New Zealand but also sadly from people in the region who should be protesting about this too.
Take the news media as one example. The news media are crucial in both countries, no more so than at the moment.
This is because they are the vehicle through which all the ordinary people in both countries get their rights to freedom of information and expression.
Through this they know what is happening, and can express their views.
In Fiji, the news media—despite some hiccups and unfortunate intimidation—remain fairly free.
Military commander and interim government prime minister Bainimarama has publicly said he is committed to media freedom. He says he just wants the media to be what the military regards as accurate and responsible. This adds up to self censorship.
In Tonga, the royal regime’s attitude to the media is more extreme.
Under the guise of their emergency powers and backed by the guns of their soldiers, Tonga’s royal government and the elite aligned with them are doing what they have always wanted to do.
They are cracking down on the pro-democracy media and claiming they are just following the law in doing this. Their law, of course.
Sangster Saulala, for one, would question the motives.
Saulala’s Oceania Broadcasting Network, or OBN TV, has been kept off the air after the riot.
Whatever might be claimed. there is one very obvious reason for this.
OBN was the only TV station fully covering the pro-democracy meetings and growing tension which spilled over into the explosive events of November.
Now OBN is being blamed for this by apologists for the government. However, if Sevele’s government had taken more notice of the people’s views being expressed via OBN TV, there might not have been a riot.
It seems a classic case of shoot the messenger.
The kingdom’s outnumbered pro-democracy MPs would also question what is going on now.
They and their views appear to have been kept off the government-controlled Tonga Broadcasting Commission’s Radio and TV Tonga. This is the kingdom’s only TV station and main news media in the absence of OBN TV.
Tavake Fusimalohi would be another with questions to ask.
The former long-time Tonga Broadcasting Commission general manager is the best known name from the kingdom’s news media. He is also easily the kingdom’s most experienced and qualified media person.
But in his role as editor of the pro-democracy newspaper Kele’a, he has faced soldiers entering his office and stopping him working.
The Tonga Defence Service says its soldiers were just enforcing the Sunday observance laws. Fusimalohi was quoted on Radio New Zealand International as saying his newspaper was targeted for exposing government corruption.
Now first Saulala and then Fusimalohi, the two main managers and editors of the truly independent media in the kingdom, have been charged with “sedition”. If convicted, they both face jail terms.
Sadly, the near silence over Tonga is not restricted to Australia and New Zealand.
The regional media body, the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), has also been strangely silent about Tonga. This is despite promoting and defending freedom of expression and information supposedly being one of the main reasons PINA exists.
You have to wonder. Did the Tongan authorities move against someone in the media as well known as Fusimalohi after they saw the lack of outside reaction to their moves against Saulala and OBN TV?
You really have to wonder about the double standards at play in all this.
TONGAN RIOTS: KING ELUSIVE AS LOCALS JOSTLE FOR UPPER HAND
Date: 28 March 2007
Auckland 6am: Preliminary hearings into the charges against Tonga's pro-democracy leaders have been adjourned.
The office of pro-democracy lawyer Clive Edwards says they were supposed to be this week but there's been a request from the Crown they be deferred.
Edward's spokesperson, legal secretary Halahevalu Fiatau, says the ball is now in hands of the Crown. (listen)
Meanwhile, the most important man in the kingdom of Tonga remains quiet and distant from all of the drama over last year's riots and the myriad of charges already clogging the courts.
King Siaosi, who assumed reign after his father died last year, has been largely absent according to locals.
Pro-democracy MP Clive Edwards says he remains distant from the woes of the kingdom. (listen)
The Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon is sending a special envoy up to Nukualofa to report back on the latest developments.
Mckinnon says they were aware of the difficulties for Tonga after the death of the old monarch, but all they've been able to do is hope that the kingdom sorts its problems out without too much nudging. (listen)
Tonga’s People’s Representatives facing charges frustrated over delays
Posted at 23:01 on 04 April, 2007 UTC
The Tonga’s People’s Representatives facing sedition charges in connection to last November’s riot in Nukualofa have expressed frustration at their cases being deferred yet again.
The five representatives, including leading Pro-Democracy MP Akilisi Pohiva, are due in the Magistrate’s Court today to settle a date for the actual hearing of their case.
The appearance had been deferred until tomorrow to give a member of the Crown prosecution’s legal team, New Zealand lawyer Peter Little, sufficient time to prepare for the case.
Our correspondent Mateni Tapueluelu says that normally hearings before the Magistrate are handled by the police.
“It has been a little irritating to the lawyer of the People’s Representatives, Clive Edwards, and he of course is being charged, but they have been a little impatient at the fact that their cases have been delayed without actual hearing. So it is indicative that the government is taking the matter with the People’s Representatives very seriously that they’re bringing foreign lawyers to handle the case.”