When Police officers are too powerful they frown on the law!

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Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa

It’s a never-ending road. 

Or is it a never-ending punishment, we’re not sure. 

Still, over the last 30 years or so, we’ve been publishing the Samoa Observer starting as a weekly, and now that we’ve been a daily for the last 26 years or so, we are still persecuted by our government for doing the only thing we know how; and that is telling the truth and nothing but the truth, the only way we know how. 

In other words, without fear or favor, so help me God!

And in doing so we’ve been hounded and frowned upon, and what was our crime? For trying to remain just the way we are until the end of time comes around.

Oh yes, we’ve been physically attacked, torched to the ground, and now that the Gestapo Police, armed with their search warrants are breathing down our necks, let’s hope they’ll just give up, and walk quietly away.

On 18 April 2017, two Police Officers arrived at the office of the Samoa Observer, armed with a search warrant.

Signed by the Registrar of the District Court and Police Constable, Kurisi Kurisi, the warrant said: “Police are currently investigating a harassment utilizing means of electronic communication case against the Samoa Observer, Vaitele.” 

The warrant went on to say: “We request information on the Article named ‘Stop this madness’ the paper published on Wednesday 29 March 2017.” 

And it then “demanded that the name of the article’s author and contacts be handed over.”

As it turned out though, the article in question was an “online comment” that did not include the author’s name, and instead only the initials “M.R.” were given. 

And as if that was not confusing enough, the “online comment” was in response to another front-page article titled ‘Church stigmata row deepens”, that had been published previously on 26 March 2017, and right away the discussion shot out of control.

It did when the claims that the woman in the article, Toa Patrick, was “carrying Jesus Christ’s suffering” and that, apparently, was when the Police stepped in. 

That was when the search warrant came. And yet by that time we had not been informed that it was possible we’d committed crimes – or suspected to have committed crimes - for which we would be charged accordingly. 

All we knew was that one day officers armed with a search warrant turned up, and explained they were tracking down those who were making “defamatory” statements against Toa Patrick and her family.

They also said they were targeting the Samoa Observer as one of the culprits. 

Later when we were shown the “documents”, we found that the search warrant was dated 18/04/17, it was lodged by the Ministry of Police for approval by a Supreme, or District Court Judge/Registrar. 

We were also shown the affidavit by a constable Kurisi Kurisi, which alleged that police were “investigating a harassment utilizing means of electronic communication case at the Samoa Observer, Vaitele.” 

The document further requested all information on an article entitled “Stop this madness” published in the paper on Wednesday 29/03/17, and that the information being sought included “name, village, date of birth, any contact numbers and date of publication”. 

In addition, “the search warrant permitted all constables of Samoa, within one month from the date of the warrant to:

i) enter and search the Samoa Observer building, vehicle premises with such assistance as necessary and if necessary to use such force for making entry whether by breaking open doors windows or otherwise;

ii) to break open and search any box or receptacle for items referred to in 5 above for seizure.”                          

In addition, “the search warrant and application” spelled out that “the law relied on is s.83 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1972.” 

However, according to our research, “this law has been repealed, and it is now replaced by the Criminal Procedure Act 2016.” 

And that to me, simply means the law relied upon, is wrong, and therefore the search warrant should have never been approved in the first place. 

Which follows that since the search warrant was the legal tool that would allow them to search the Samoa Observer premises was indeed a dud - and if the law is to remain the pillar of truth as it should always be – then we suggest that they be shown the way out, with no questions asked. 

And as for the newspaper’s role as the watchdog of its government in the public’s interest, the idea that the Police are allowed to periodically issue search warrants against crusading newspapers, is a demoralizing impediment that serves only to retard the thrill of striving still for press freedom and the public’s right to know. 

The point is that when a search warrant is issued without any legal basis, and yet in the full knowledge that no crime has been committed, such a move is an abuse of process which undermines the newspaper’s right to do what it does best which is helping to  promote freedom of speech, and just as important if not more so, is the freedom to communicate, and the freedom to assimilate. 

Now finally, let’s discuss briefly the report that Toa Patrick’s father, Reverend Opapo Soana’i Oeti, the former Reverend of the E.F.K.S, has lodged a complaint against the Samoa Observer in relation to the article titled, ‘Stop this madness’.

What we’ve been told is that the search warrant we’ve been talking about back there, had actually been triggered by another search warrant, launched by Mr. Oeti.

And as that search warrant was still in effect, it’d apparently triggered a Police hunt for an online blogger known as, “Ole Palemia.”

So who is “Ole Palemia?”

Well, as we all know, the words “Ole Palemia” – when they are translated into English - read “The Prime Minister.”

And according to the Police, this little scuffle has somehow “triggered a Police hunt for an online blogger known as, ‘Ole Palemia’.” 

And so, for those who are visiting this country so that they do not know what the words “Ole Palemia” mean, we’re happy to tell you. 

They mean “The Prime Minister.” 

And why the Police is hunting that “online blogger,” known as the “The Prime Minister?” 

Well, we honestly don’t know. 

And so, perhaps you should ask the Police; they should know. 

Indeed, they should know that as a member of the Fourth Estate, the newspaper’s freedom to report without fear or favor, is protected.

And yes, they should know it’s hard to fathom that in this day and age, a search warrant is allowed to be issued against a media outlet, without firstly ascertaining that the application had been properly made in the first place. 

They should know.

Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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