Friday, January 19, 2007

Sedition in Tonga

Last week, Tongan police arrested pro-democracy MP 'Isileli Pulu over last year's riots in Nuku'alofa. Today, they also arrested ‘Akilisi Pohiva, the leader of Tonga's pro-democracy movement. The charges Pohiva faces are unclear, but are likely to be similar to those faced by Pulu: sedition, abetting wilful damage, and (according to some sources) murder. The latter carries a mandatory death sentence in Tonga - which is exactly what some among the Tongan aristocracy think should happen to "dirt eaters" who get uppity.

Tonga's sedition law mirrors New Zealand's. Section 47(1) of Tonga's Criminal Offences Act imposes a 7 year jail term for the speaking or publication of words expressing a seditious intention. Section 48 defines a seditious intention as an intention

(a) to excite disaffection against the King of Tonga or against the Parliament or Government of Tonga;

(b) to excite such hostility or ill-will between different classes of the inhabitants of the Kingdom as may be injurious to the public welfare;

(c) to incite, encourage or procure violence, disorder or resistance to law or lawlessness in the Kingdom;

(d) to procure otherwise than by lawful means the alteration of any matter affecting the Constitution, Laws or Government of the Kingdom.

Unlike New Zealand, there is no "good faith" defence, and in the past the law has been used against the Taimi 'o Tonga newspaper for its criticism of official corruption.

It is unclear exactly what Pulu or Pohiva are alleged to have said, but as in the Selwyn case I take issue with the very idea of a sedition charge. If they incited a riot, wilful damage, or murder, they should of course be charged with it. But no-one should be held criminally liable for saying (however forcefully) that the current political situation is unacceptable and calling for change.