Wallis and Futuna22 March 2002
King of Wallis forces newspaper to close
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF) deplored the closure of the weekly newspaper Te Fenua Fo’ou by communal police of the king of Wallis, in the French Pacific territory of Wallis and Futuna, and called for it to be allowed to publish freely.
"Whatever the king’s communal authority, it does not give him the right to attack freedom of information," said RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to the territory’s French prefect and administrator, Alain Waquet. "The arbitrary closure of a newspaper is a serious matter in a democracy and we ask you to intervene to ensure compliance with French law."
The newspaper did not appear on 22 March after pressure from King ("Lavelua") Tomasi Kulimoetoke. The previous day, the king’s communal police had demanded that the paper’s editor, Michel Bodineau, resign and close the paper because he had defied the king’s orders by printing an editorial about a scandal involving the royal family.
The affair centred on Make Pilioko, a local elected official sentenced in 1999 to a year in prison and five years deprivation of civil and family rights for having embezzled public funds. She had taken refuge in the royal palace. After recovering her rights, she ran for election to the territorial assembly earlier this month but was not elected.
"The king criticised me for mentioning the case in an editorial," said Bodineau, "but I think people have the right to know certain things." When he refused to resign, the king’s police seized a computer hard drive and a modem and closed the newspaper. Bodineau has filed a complaint for "theft" and "obstructing press freedom."