Criminal Libel, ‘Ghost writers’ and “Ole Palemia”! What fantastic fun?

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Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa

Across the front page of the Samoa Observer on 3 November 2017, the story titled “Govt. brings back Criminal Libel law in hunt for ‘Ghost writers’,” was published.

Down below, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi is quoted as having said, his government is reviving this law so that it can use it to hunt down some jokers whom he describe as ‘Ghost writers’, one of whom is “Ole Palemia” (The Prime Minister).

He said: “(The idea) is to find the writers (who are) hiding behind (this) anonymity (where they’re) using their freedom of expression, to vent their vile and demeaning allegations on social media, (and that this) will no longer be tolerated.”  

Tuilaepa added: “Now they should be warned that their days of mischiefs are numbered.” 

Well, is that right? Indeed, how is that humanly possible, given the fact that social media today, is virtually impossible to penetrate?

 As for the law of Criminal Libel, it was abolished in 2013, and now according to the report, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has asked the Attorney General’s Office, to look into reintroducing it, one more time.

But then once again, why is he wasting his time asking anyone what to do and what not to do, when in fact,  he is the law?

Isn’t he?

According to the report though, reviving this law is an effort to address the growing number of “ghost writers” who are using fake names in the social media, to attack members of the public. 

And yes, “Ole Palemia” is now one of those “ghost writers”, we are told.

The statement from the government says: “The intention is not only to protect the privacy of the individuals and the general public from unsubstantiated, vicious and inciting allegations posted by ghost writers on the social media, but to safeguard and ensure that peace and harmony in the country remains intact.”

It quotes Prime Minister Tuilaepa as having said: “Since the Criminal Libel law was abolished (from the Crimes Act of 2013), some have been abusing the freedom to express their views and in particular, the defamatory allegations posted on social media.”

He went on to say: “Some of these postings could lead to violent confrontation which may eventually cause misery to families and government will not stand by any longer,” Tuilaepa said.

He’s probably right.

Now, we’ve got a couple of questions for Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his government.

First: “What is the government going to do to the ghost called ‘Ole Palemia’ if he was found?”

Well, if we were to answer that one now, we would politely say we sincerely hope that whoever “Ole Palemia” is, he would never be found. 

Second question: “Why did the government abolish the Law of Criminal Libel?” 

The government has not yet explained why, other than that it has revived it in its quest to find out the identity of the “ghost” who is calling himself “Ole Palemia”.

But then from what the Prime Minister has been saying, it appears that the plan is to ensure that all “ghost writers” are a menace to everyone, so that when they are found they would immediately be thrown in jail, and the Law of Criminal Libel is apparently the right authority to get that done.

Now that reminds about what happened back there in early March 1999. 

That was when the government renovated Prime Minister Tofilau’s hotel in Savaii, in anticipation of the royal visit by Prince Edward of Great Britain, and as it turned out all went well according to plan.

It was later when the royal visit ended and Prince Edward had returned home, when a joker named Joe Hollywood sent in a letter to the editor, for publication.

Tofilau was quite ill at the time Joe Hollywood’s letter arrived, and when it was published, one paragraph in it said: “Tofilau is a wicked man, that way he will be welcomed into hell by the queen of hell.”

In response, right away Prime Prime Minister, Tofilau Eti Alesana, sued the paper for defamatory libel.

Ten days after the Chief Justice had found the Samoa Observer two editors guilty of civil contempt, and they were fined $500 each, Tofilau Eti Alesana passed away. He was 74. 

Soon afterwards, Attorney General, Mrs Brenda Heather Latu, stepped in and lodged an application with the Supreme Court.

She sought an order to put “a permanent stop to the proceedings on the defamatory libel claim”, that had been made against the Samoa Observer editors, by the late Prime Minister, Tofilau Eti Alesana.

The matter was heard before Chief Justice Patu T.F. Sapolu.

When His Honour asked the sole respondent, Katalaina M. Sapolu, if she had an objection to make, she offered none, and His Honour therefore granted the application. 

And with His Honour’s judgment, the hearing of any other matter pertaining to the criminal libel claim made against the defendants, was similarly discontinued. 

It was 12 August 1999, which happened to be my birthday, and now obviously unbeknown to His Honour, his ruling held a special meaning for me; it was my birthday.

As it turned out though, it was decidedly the best birthday present, I’d ever been given. 

Since to me then, the discontinuation of the criminal libel charge was both a denouement and a miracle; it was the end to worrying days and nights about being locked up in jail for six months, and the miracle was the knowledge that my freedom would not be forcibly denied me from now on.

Tofilau Eti Alesana has gone away. He will not return. Now for quite sometime afterwards, that knowledge would not leave me alone. It was the thought that I will not spend any day in jail because Tofilau Eti Alesana has died, that was causing so much pain now and that I feel tears well up in my eyes.

Still, now that the Law of Criminal Libel has been revived in a scheme that is aimed at tracking down those so-called “ghost writers”, whom Prime Minister Tuilaepa, believes are all going under the name “Ole Palemia”, what do you think?

Well, if our opinion was sought, I would suggest that a message is sent to the Social Media with a message to those “ghost writers” wherever they are, telling them please stop, and leave our Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, alone.

He’s harmless, he’s a seasoned politician, he means well to everyone, and he is a man of the Church. Is he also a Man of God? Now that’s the question for which an answer has not yet come through! So stay around. 

Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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