Malele Paulo/ Photo Courtesy of Pacific Freedom Forum

Rarotonga, Cook Islands  -Government in Samoa should not waste taxpayers money on arresting and prosecuting a public critic, says PFF, the Pacific Freedom Forum.

“Focus on fighting corruption, not freedom of speech,” says PFF Chair Bernadette Carreon of Palau, reminding Samoa of its commitment to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, guaranteeing freedoms of expression.

“New legislation, based on old criminal libel laws from colonial times, forces Samoa leaders to look backwards, not forwards.”

Malele Paulo, who publishes on social media under the pen name King Faipopo, was arrested last week after returning from Australia to Samoa for his mother’s funeral.

Government’s case follows an earlier attempt to shut down another long-time critic, O Le Palemia, which ended up in the arrest of a woman who is now suing government for wrongful arrest, claiming mistaken identity.

Still talking – anti-government critic Malele Paulo answers media questions after his arrest. Photo / Samoa Observer

PFF co-Chair Monica Miller says that part of the problem can be traced back to government itself, which started censoring its own news years ago.

“Pacific countries need strong, independent public service news, free from censorship, to balance any claims via social media,” says Miller, speaking from American Samoa.

“As our members heard from the Pacific media leaders summit in Auckland today, fake news and misinformation thrives in the absence of credible news.”

From Solomon Islands, PFF co-Chair Ofani Eremae agrees that government needs to answer critics in public, not waste public money on shutting down criticism.

“Samoa prides itself as a member of free market organisations like the World Trade Organisation – but economic success begins with a free market of ideas,” says Eremae.

“Criticism keeps us sharp – and a sharp media protects our countries from the influence of corruption.”

Prior to arrival back in Samoa, government had earlier threatened to seek extradition of Paulo from Australia, alleging public threats against Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.