Akilisi Pohiva, editor of the political newsletter Kele’a, and his Human Rights and Democracy Movement won a landslide victory at elections in March 2002 on a platform of moving towards a constitutional monarchy. But he was unable to take power because the island’s inhabitants are only allowed by the monarchy to elect nine of the 30 members of parliament, the rest being noblemen allied with the king.
Royalists circulated a petition in late January calling for the country’s only independent newspaper, Taimi’o Tonga (Times of Tonga, published in New Zealand) to be banned. Editor Mateni Tapueluelu said members of the Kotoa Movement, which is headed by the king’s daughter, Princess Pilolevu Tuita, was behind the move.
The monarchists said the paper was crude and disrespectful, gave a bad impression of Tonga and that its reporting of events threatened the social order. They also charged that it made a lot of money but did not constructively support the monarchy. The pressure on the paper came after Kele’a, then Taimi’o Tonga and then the regional media reported that the king had more than $350 million stashed away in banks abroad.
Tapueluelu announced on 4 March that he had been charged with libelling the king for reprinting the story in Kele’a. The government at first denied the accusation, but then the king admitted he had a bank account in Hawaii. Tapueluelu said he had printed the article because it was a matter of public interest. He was summoned before a court in the island capital, Nuku’alofa, but no verdict had been announced by the end of the year.
One of Taimi’o Tonga’s reporters, Laucala Pohiva, was charged with using forged documents, and was briefly arrested on 25 February with her father, Kele’a editor Akilisi Pohiva, and another politician. The family said her house was searched and papers seized.
Akilisi Pohiva had been arrested in 1996 with Taimi’o Tonga’s publisher, Kalafi Moala, and journalist (later editor) Filokalafi ’Akau’ola, and sentenced to a month in prison for insulting parliament by reporting that a motion of censure had been drafted against a royalist minister.
In August 2002, Moala accused the monarchy, in a book called "Island Kingdom Strikes Back," of hounding political dissidents and the independent press, especially his newspaper, and noted that the authorities habitually made excuses, such as economic development or national security, for curbing press freedom. He criticised the public media for often failing to print news when it displeased the authorities.
On 12 December, the supreme court ordered the government on to pay 25,000 euros in damages to Moala and ’Akau’ola for wrongful imprisonment in 1996.