Is “freedom of expression” “freedom of thought,” in words?

561 Hits

author picture

Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa

This is another true story. It’s about Samoa’s General elections. 

Held on 4 March 2016, the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P) led by incumbent Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, was returned to power in a landslide victory.

They won 35 of the 49 elected seats in the Legislative Assembly with the help of 12 independents, so that it is now free to lead for another four years.

As for the opposition, the Tautua Samoa Party, it failed to win those eight seats it needed to remain a viable entity in the House, so that today it is no longer a parliamentary party in Samoa’s Legislative Assembly.  

And so, as the H.R.P.P. has emerged the unrivalled political party this part of the South Pacific, we dare to predict that history will not forget in a hurry what is happening here today.

Indeed, it will remember how those 12 independents had subsequently joined the H.R.P.P. thus strengthening Samoa’s one-party rule, and in so doing prevent the Tautua Party from obtaining the eight seats it required for recognition as a parliamentary party.

History will remember. It will, indeed, find it impossible to forget.

But then the question remains: “How were those 12 independents able to subsequently join the H.R.P.P. thus strengthening Samoa’s one-party rule?”

Now that’s the question for which an answer would be much appreciated.

Especially so since in a story published in the Samoa Observer on 3 September 2016, six months since the general elections had ended on 4 March 2016, and H.R.P.P. was declared the undisputed winner, the Electoral Commissioner made an unexpected announcement.

He said “about 30 people have been charged by the Police” for not registering to vote in March’s General Election, and they were now awaiting their day in the District Court.

He also said “the names of about 1,100 people had been advertised through the media for not registering,” and in addition, “more than a thousand had come to the Electoral Office for late registration.” 

He added: “Thirty of them have been charged while the office continues its work on the others who did not register. Those people that came in to register did not have the pressure from election committee.” 

In fact, “they came in voluntarily which means what we were doing (advertising their names) works.”

Wonderful!

According to him though, more than 40,000 people came to their office to transfer to other electoral rolls before the 2016 election. 

And as if that was not tedious enough, there were apparently complaints about the long queues before the 2016 election to get transferred which could have been avoided if people did not leave it until the last minute. 

But then isn’t that what the Electoral Office is there for? Isn’t it there for the sole reason that its job is to serve the public?

And so here’s the question: Now that the elections have been history for  six months, why are they still complaining about long queues that could have been avoided if people did not leave it until the last minute? 

Well, it looks as if they’re already thinking ahead towards the general elections in 2021, and they’re now reminding the public that this office is always open for transfers and to get registration to avoid last minute runs … 

Meanwhile, they said they were now working on confirming and removing the names of deceased voters from the electoral roll. 

Incidentally, there are only two ways where the deceased names can be removed, they’re now telling the public.

Indeed, it is either confirmation from the Bureau of Statistics or by being confirmed by an immediate family member. 

So what is going on here by the way?

All we’re told is that there’s a bit about the law that has to be tightened to ensure voting remains confidential.

They said: “The secrecy of any citizen’s votes is not taken lightly by the law. We did an amendment to the electoral law increasing the penalties for people that might infringe with other peoples vote.”

They also said: The penalty for this has been increased from three months, to 12 months imprisonment.

Now that’s harsh, don’t you think?

Still, that’s the electoral law, they said. But then what that law was about we have no idea. Since the only law that comes to mind when we’re discussing issues of this nature, is the one about basic human rights.

And so what do we do? 

We dig into the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa, and soon we come up with the law that says: All citizens of Samoa shall have the right -

(a) To freedom of speech and expression;

(b) To assemble peaceably and without arms;

(c) To form associations or unions; and

(d) To move freely throughout Samoa and to reside in any part thereof.

Now that’s the law we know quite a bit about. 

Indeed, it’s the only law we know of that treats all citizens of this country equally no matter what kind of individuals they happen to be.

In any case, it is “freedom of speech and expression” in particular that we are going to refer to, with reference to the discussion we are conducting here.  

The question is: Why is it that 30 people have been charged by the Police for exercising their “right” and “freedom” not to register for the general elections, as it is spelt out in the Constitution?

Now according to the Election Commissioner, those “30 people” have not only been charged, but they have also been told they would be tried in the District Court. 

But then what if they refused to co-operate with the authorities, citing their constitutional “freedom of expression” and their “right” not to be charged, and tried in a courtroom?

Indeed, the way we see it, those “30 people” who refused to register did so because they did not want to vote in the general elections, which follows that perhaps their minds had told them they did not have to either register or vote.

Now, once again the way we see it, that’s “freedom of thought” which is “freedom of expression” that has been made physically transparent, with the use of everyday words.  

  According to the Commissioner though, more than 40,000 people came to their office to transfer to other electoral rolls before the 2016 elections. 

In addition, the office had to publicize “the names of about 1,100 people” urging them to register as voters for the general elections.

Now the paradox here is clear enough. 

People were being pushed to register in order that they voted in the general elections; if they did not register, they were charged by the Police for disobeying the law, and in the end they would be sent to the Magistrate Court where they would be tried and punished.

So that now the way we see it, this country is drowning in laws. 

And yet the ones that are meant to reassure the citizens of this country about their rights which are their freedom of speech and expression, and to assemble peaceably and without arms, are to an extent ignored.

Which is why the fear of questioning the status quo in this country is commonplace, and brutal violence is alive and well everywhere. 

© Samoa Observer 2016

Developed by Samoa Observer in Apia