A Magistrate Court judge ruled in Nuku’alofa on June 12 that Kele’a Tonga Newspaper had defamed the Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano and six of his cabinet ministers, Dr. Viliami Latū, William Clive Edwards, Samiu Vaipulu, Fe’ao Vakatā, Dr. ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki, and Sangster Saulala.
It is yet to be confirmed but the newspaper normally appealed any magistrate ruling against it.
Magistrate Paula Tatafu ordered the defendants, Publisher Lautala Pohiva Tapueluelu, Editor Mateni Tapueluelu, Kele’a Tonga Newspaper and Solomone Palu — a regular writer of letters to the editor to pay damages totalling to $124,721.80 effective today June 13 and within 150 days.
The decision was made after the plaintiffs filed on October 29, 2012 a civil lawsuit against the newspaper based on a letter to the editor by Solomone Palu of Houma, Tongtapu titled – The law is paralysed and it never goes forth to bring leaders to justice.
It accused the leaders of the government for misuse of public fund and corruption but the magistrate ruled the claims had no basis and were intended to make defamation against the leaders.
He then ruled that Mr Palu has to pay $62,000 in damages of which $35,000 to be paid to the seven plaintiffs and $25,000 for his legal costs.
The Tapueluelus have to pay $62,000 in damages in which $27,000 to be paid to the plaintiffs and the remaining for their legal costs.
Hon William Clive Edwards, Tonga’s Minister of Justice represented the plaintiffs while MP ‘Akilisi Pohiva and Lawyer Sione ‘Etikā acted for Solomone Palu, Laucala Tapueluelu, Mateni Tapueluelu and the Kele’a Newspaper.
In an editorial of Kele‘a newspaper last year, the editor said they stood by their article and that the court case is an opportunity for the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers to appear in court and make responses to what they have been accused of in Palu’s letter – implying that it is something of public interests and may have not been made public had the letter not been allowed to publish.
Kele’a newspaper was founded in 1986 as a quarterly newsletter by Democratic Party Leader MP ‘Akilisi Pohiva. It is now a weekly newspaper since 2005 and distributed over Tonga and Tongans abroad.
Correction: We corrected this article as the word "award" was confusingly used.