First offender convicted under Tonga new Electronic Communications Abuse Offences law

    A Nuku’alofa Magistrate has sentenced Mr. Afimeimo’unga Hola to 11-month imprisonment after he alleged on Facebook that two business owners had manufactured and sold illicit drugs.

    Afimeimo’unga Hola

    Magistrate Peni Ma’u fully suspended Hola’s 11-month jail term.

    Hola had been convicted for his charges of two counts of using a service to abuse and causing harm by posting an electronic communication.

    The court was told Hola had abused and caused harm to the plaintiffs Mr. Rajnesh Narayan Reddy and Mr. Aman Lal.

    Hola claimed in a livestreamed video on Facebook “the Indian nationals who each operates the two water tank companies, one with light green colour and the other with dark green colour, one at Hofoa and the other at the Small Industries, are those who import illicit drugs and assist with the production of methamphetamine here in Tonga and other drugs.”

    Crown Counsel Tupou Kafa Vainikolo told the court that this was in fact a very serious crime that is trending nowadays with electronic communications and mostly through Facebook.

    Hola who has many followers on Facebook not only broadcast the offences but also enticed others to commit arson during his livestreaming video.

    Abuse and Damage

    The complainants stated that Afimeimo’unga’s allegations had ruined them emotionally and their company’s reputation causing fear and anxiety.

    Mr. Reddy testified that as a result, there was a blaze set to his business, which caused damages of over $1,000. Mr. Lal said that it also damaged the financial state of his business.

    In section 4 of the ECAOA, any person that contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of a serious offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000, or imprisonment not exceeding 3 years, or both.

    However, being the first case of its kind, a similar case from New Zealand, New Zealand Police v Spencer Stephens (2019) NZDC 2013 was adopted to guide the verdict in this case including other factors; a first-time offender, the provider for his family, had shown remorse over his actions and asked the complainants for forgiveness.

    As a result, Hola’s sentence of 11 months imprisonment was fully suspended for 2 years with community service for 70 hours. During the suspension of the 2 years period, he must abide by the following conditions:

    • Not to commit any further offences that have a term of imprisonment

    • On probation

    • Not allowed to defame anyone or company in any form of electronic communication including Facebook with regards to illicit drugs, anyone who had not been taken to court and found guilty on illicit drugs; and

    • Not allowed to instigate someone or company using any electronic communication, including Facebook, to commit an offence.

    “Tonga Police strongly reminds the public to refrain from posting abuse and causing harm to any person via social media. Not only that it is morally wrong, but it is a crime and will not escape the long arm of the Law”.

    Tonga Police has welcomed the sentence saying it was the first conviction under the Electronic Communications Abuse Offences Act 2020.

    It is understood Hola was facing similar charges brought against him by Princess Pilolevu Tuita and others.

    4 COMMENTS

    1. Your freedom is given to you to use it wisely for the good of others, not to destroy. Every freedom of choice you choose have responsibilities. We are responsible for what we think, what we say and what we do. FREEDOM COMES WITH RESPONSIBILITIES! LOVE OTHERS AND USE THINGS NOT LOVE THINGS AND USE PEOPLE B

    2. Defamation of character is not free speech! Tonga has no free speech right laws written bcuz you’re free to speak just as long as what you’re saying about anyone is the truth! If you must accuse someone publicly then you’d better make sure your information is correct and the honest truth lol! Every choice we make has it’s consequences, good or bad!!!

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