Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More sedition in Tonga

Two more Tongan People's Representatives have been charged with sedition. Clive Edwards and Lepolo Taunisila will be joining their fellow MPs 'Isileli Pulu and 'Akilisi Pohiva in court over the next two weeks. All are charged with sedition over statements supposedly made in the leadup to last year's pro-democracy riots - though there is still no suggestion as to what exactly they are supposed to have said.

As with the previous cases, I take issue with the very idea of a sedition charge. If Edwards or Taunisila 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. Governments should not be able to use the law to punish their opponents and shield themselves from criticism.

Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what the Tongan government is trying to do. Over half the Human Rights and Democracy Movement's MPs - and almost half of Tonga's elected representatives - are now facing charges, and there may be more to come. Rather than accepting the need for political reform, Tonga's hereditary kleptocracy seems to have decided to try and cling to power by repression. Which is not going to help Tonga's stability, or the kleptocracy's survival, in the long run.