The Editor of Keleʻa Newspaper ‘Ofa Vatikani has been fined TP$1,250.00 and Publisher Lautala Pōhiva Tapueluelu TP$750.00 for breaching contempt of court laws with their coverage of the magistrate court ruling against the Chinese nationals Meilin Liu and Fe Kaifeng Tian.
Lord Chief Justice Owen Paulsen ordered the duo to pay their fines within 2 months or face one month imprisonment.
Tonga’s Acting Attorney General, ʻĀminiasi Kefu launched the contempt action against the newspaper’s authorities in June, after they published a story headlined – “Fehuʻia pe ‘oku totonu nai ke fōtunga pehe ni tuʻutuʻuni hopo” (“Questionable whether a court order should look like this”), which was published in the Ko e Kele’a newspaper of Monday 2 March 2015, Volume 31, Number 9.
In his ruling Justice Paulsen said it was clear the readers would “understand” from the last paragraph of the article that the release of Liu and Tian was made by Magistrate Mafi because he had received “communications from high authorities” at the Ministry of Justice. .
“That would have the effect, in my view, to lead members of the community to conclude that Magistrate Mafi was influenced to discharge the defendants, that he is not impartial and that the Magistrate Court is not an independent institution, but one that is subject to influence from people in high authority”, a statement from the AG Office said.
Justice Paulsen also advised that “anyone is free to criticise the decisions of the Court or the conduct of any Judge, even if the criticism is outspoken, mistaken or wrongheaded, provided that it is not likely to undermine the public confidence in the administration of justice”.
Mr Vatikani and Mrs Pohiva were remorseful, and as an expression of their regret, they have agreed to publish their apologies on Kele’a acknowledging their article was in breach of contempt of court laws and reflecting the fact that it should never have been made.
The defendants were ordered to pay the court costs and were also given 42 days from 15 July 2015 to file any appeal against their conviction.
Dr Harrison QC SC represented Mr Vatikani and Mrs Pohiva, and the Acting Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions for the Crown Law.