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Tonga 28 May 2003

Taimi ’o Tonga still banned despite Supreme Court ruling

Reporters Without Borders protested today at what it called the "illegal" refusal of the Tongan government to allow copies of the foreign-printed newspaper Taimi ’o Tonga into the country despite a 26 May Supreme Court order lifting a three-month-old ban.

The organisation called on the prime minister, Prince ’Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, to respect the court’s verdict that the ban was unconstitutional and allow the paper, which is printed in New Zealand, is Tonga’s only independent media and supports the local pro-democracy movement, to go on sale again. It deplored the extensive harassment of the paper in the past.

Some 2,000 copies were flown to the island state the day after the court ruling but customs officials at the airport in the capital, Nuku’alofa, confiscated them, saying they had not received government orders to allow them in.

The paper’s publisher, Kalafi Moala, who is in exile in New Zealand, said he feared the government was planning a new legal move to get round the court order and keep the paper out. The court also suspended the government’s cancellation of its publishing licence. The paper has filed a legal complaint against the airport seizure, charging contempt of court.

Moala, a Tonga-born US citizen, was banned from the country in 1996 after fiercely criticising the government and moved the paper’s offices to Auckland, New Zealand. However the paper was still distributed in neighbouring archipelago of Tonga.

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