Tonga had been urged to abolish the death penalty as the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty marked the 17th year since its establishment with the theme – Children, Unseen Victims.
It says it is frequently forgotten that children of parents sentenced to death or executed carry a heavy emotional and psychological burden that can amount to the violation of their human rights.
The Australian and New Zealand High Commissioners to Tonga jointly marked the world day with speeches by Capt Sila Siufanga from the Salvation Army and Families Free of Violence Co-ordinator and former Tongan Police officer Siueli ‘Eleni Mone.
The high commissioners urged those present to work towards the eventual removal of the death penalty from Tonga’s statutes.
Tonga has maintained a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1982, although it remains in law as a punishment for murder and treason, they said.
In 2011 a brother and relative of three men who were executed in Tonga 39 years ago spoke to Kaniva news about the family’s reactions and the final moments of the men before they were hung in Hu’atolitoli prison.
Siale Sole spoke to Kaniva news in 2011. The original story was published in Tongan on May 9, 2011.
Hāloti Sole, Livingi Sole and Fili ‘Esau were convicted and sentence to death after they murdered Uikelotu of Vainī in 1981.
The murder happened at Taufa’āhau Road in Vainī after the three men and another person from their town had been working at a residence of their noble, Kalaniuvalu, in Nuku’alofa.
They drank alcohol and sang songs while driving back home to Lapaha when they heard Vaini residents swearing at them.
The victim Uikelotu was one of a group of youths who challenged them on the road. The vehicle stopped and a fight broke out.
Siale said Livingi saw that Hāloti was outnumbered so he got out of the van with a machete and hit the victim’s leg before ‘Esau stabbed Uikelotu’s chest with a hoe.
Siale, a brother of Hāloti and Livingi and a relative of ‘Esau said it was a heavy burden for the whole family of 13 siblings to cope with the results of the death penalty. ‘Esau’s mother married Sole’s uncle.
The agony was coupled with the rejection of hu loufi – the cultural practice of asking the king to use his constitutional power to pardon the convicts.
Siale said they asked the then king to save the trio from the death penalty and commute their sentence to life imprisonment. The king refused request because of the gruesomeness of the killing, Siale said.
Siale said he thought it was unfair to kill three men because they killed just one person. He claimed there were murder cases in which the convicts were given life sentences and who eventually died in prison or released in jubilees.
In Tongan he said: “It was a great loss to the family. Not only two of our siblings had been executed, but we also spent a lot of possessions such as Tongan handicrafts when they went to family of the victim and asked for their forgiveness and also to the king.”
Siale was emotional when he talked to Kaniva news and said the family were shocked when they first received the news in 1981 that the trio had been involved in the murder at Vaini town.
But what was more shocking was the involvement of Livingi, the youngest sibling. He described Livingi with the Tongan proverb – ‘Ikai fuea e lango’ which means he had a naïve and innocent character just like someone who cannot chase away the flies which fly around their face.
He said Hāloti was a diehard person and their father once warned him that if he did not change his attitude he would one day die because of it. He said Hāloti made homebrew, which is prohibited by law in Tonga, and when police were aware of him possessing homebrew they could not arrest him because of the threats he made against them.
The final moment
Siale said the family was allowed to visit the three men in prison.
The trio were also allowed to tape record their stories and send them to the families.
They advised their siblings from their cell to stop drinking alcohol because this was a factor that contributed to the killing of their victim, Uikelotu.
Siale had described the advice as excellent sharing (“vahvahe malie”) which he hadn’t heard of before.
“His brothers were absolutely remorseful,” Siale said.
He said when they heard them talking on the tape, it was deeply touching.
He said it sound like his brothers were talking directly with God.
He said even the two pastors, Haitini Finau and Manase Tafea who were working with them were astonished to hear how his brothers had shared the word of God from the Bible.
Siale said the men were not told when they would be executed, but the pastors were surprised when they told them the date and time.
When the pastors asked who told them, they said the angel.
On the morning of September 7 1982 jailers opened the door of their cell before dressing them and leading them to Mo’ungakula gallows for their execution, Siale said while trying to compose himself.
He said the pastors told them that when they arrived at the gallows Livingi pulled off his hood and turned to the officers and asked for their forgiveness. He apologiesed to the family of Uikelotu, the king and the government.
Siale said there was a brief disagreement among the three on who would be executed first. Livingi told Hāloti to be the first to be executed because he was the oldest, but Hāloti told him to take it first as he was the youngest and leave it for him to tidy it up. Livingi agreed and was executed first. ‘Esau was the second to be hung before Hāloti.
Siale said the pastors told them the men died peacefully.
Livingi’s wife delivered their youngest child a day before he was executed. Hāloti was survived by his wife and three children. Esau was survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.
The death penalty
Hātoti Sole, Livingi Sole and Fili Esau were the last people executed in Tonga.
In the same year, the Tongan Parliament discussed abolishing the death penalty, but decided to retain it.
In 2004, the Tongan Parliament voted 10-7 against a bill to introduce the death penalty for possession of illicit drugs.
In 2005 Tevita Siale Vola became the first person in Tonga to be convicted of murder in 24 years, but was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In January this year Sitiveni ‘Esi Muli was sentenced to life imprisonment for the brutal killing of Feng Sheng Pei and Su Jie Wen at their vegetable farm in Lakepa.
The main points
- Tonga had been urged to abolish the death penalty as the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty marked the 17 year since its establishment with the theme – Children, Unseen Victims.
- It says it is frequently forgotten that children of parents sentenced to death or executed carry a heavy emotional and psychological burden that can amount to the violation of their human rights.