The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is very concerned by your government’s importation ban on the Times of Tonga (Taimi ‘o Tonga), an independent, biweekly newspaper published in New Zealand.
On February 27, the Times of Tonga offices in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, and Auckland, New Zealand, received a letter signed by the Tongan minister of finance stating that the paper is now “a prohibited import into the Kingdom of Tonga.” The government later issued a press release, posted on the official government Web site, declaring that the Times of Tonga is a “foreign newspaper” that “has ruthlessly campaigned for the overthrow of Tonga’s constitutional government.”
Lawyers for the Times of Tonga plan to appeal the importation ban at a court hearing on March 6, according to an editor at the paper.
The Times of Tonga publisher, Kalafi Moala, a native-born Tongan who is a naturalized citizen of the United States, moved the paper’s printing operation to New Zealand in 1995 for financial reasons. The main news office and advertising sales offices remain in Tonga. Several Tongan publications are published in New Zealand and imported to the archipelago, and a number of foreign-owned publications are regularly distributed in the country without interference.
The government has not clarified which specific articles in the Times of Tonga precipitated the ban. Editors at the paper believe the crackdown could stem from a number of recent reports that have exposed corruption among government officials and the royal family, including allegations that Your Majesty used personal funds to lease a jet from Royal Brunei Airlines.
Throughout its 14-year publishing history, the Times of Tonga, the country’s most popular newspaper, has been subject to repeated government harassment. In March 2002, editor Mateni Tapueluelu was charged with sedition for writing an article alleging that Your Majesty had invested private funds in overseas bank accounts. The charges against Tapueluelu, which carry a maximum penalty of 7 years in prison, were later dropped.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ fears that the importation ban on the Times of Tonga is another attempt by your government to silence the paper’s critical reports. We respectfully remind Your Majesty that the Tongan Constitution guarantees press freedom. We call on you to lift the ban on the Times of Tonga immediately, and for you to ensure that all journalists are able to report and publish free from government interference.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your response.