Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has rejected comparisons of the way his Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) government is being run to a dictatorship.
He also denied suggestions that his government’s decision to revive the Criminal Libel law, which had been abolished in 2013, is part of a move to restrict freedom of speech.
In hindsight, Tuilaepa said he regrets the decision to remove Criminal Libel from the law books in the first place.
“I should’ve never abolished this law which caters to protect victims of defamation,” he said.
Tuilaepa accepts that he has critics who have called him a “dictator.”
“There have been writings that accuse me of being a dictator (in relation to the Criminal Libel),” he said. “But it is not my law.
“They (writers) are in favor of those doing the damage. What about those who are victims of defamation?
“This is a Christian move to protect the victims who are being defamed. This law is designed as a refuge to people whose names and reputations have been ruined.”
Tuilaepa added that Commission has been set up to help reinstate the Criminal Libel law. Tuilaepa said this law was for people who had been defamed online by faceless bloggers and social media commentators.
“This law will target only those who defame individuals and tarnish their good names. This is their safe haven.”
Looking back, Tuilaepa said: “In the small time the said law was abolished, defamation has increased significantly here in Samoa.
Tuilaepa said this law was put in place by previous Members of Parliament.
“When it was my time; maybe I was a bit too kind,” he said.
“With confidence that those who defamed others were no longer in existence, it is why I abolished that law.
“But now I know, the previous Members of Parliament knew what they were doing.”
Last week, the government announced the Attorney General’s Office has been tasked to look into reintroducing the Criminal Libel law.
It is part of efforts to address the growing number of “ghost writers” who use fake social media pages to attack members of the public. One such page is known as “Ole Palemia”.
The Police had launched an investigation to find out who is responsible for the page but up until now they have not been successful. There are other pages.
And now the government has had enough.
“The intention is not only to protect the privacy of the individuals and the general public from unsubstantiated, vicious and inciting allegations posted by ghost writers on the social media but to safeguard and ensure peace and harmony in the country remains intact,” the statement issued by the government said.
The statement quoted Prime Minister Tuilaepa saying that since the Criminal Libel law was abolished (from the Crimes Act of 2013) “some have abused the freedom to express their views in particular the defamatory allegations posted on social media.
“Some of these postings could lead to violent confrontation which may eventually cause misery to families and government will not stand by any longer,” Tuilaepa said.
Subject to approval by Parliament, the Prime Minister says the new act will ensure that the ghost writers will be brought to justice to answer to their writings.
And they could be liable to be prosecuted with offenses that will include imprisonment.
“The H.R.P.P. caucus is in full support,” Tuilaepa said.
“There are 4,500 hackers in Samoa. Some are children and even lawyers are among the best hackers in the country.
“And to find the writers hiding behind anonymity by using their freedom of expression to vent their vile and demeaning allegations on social media will no longer be tolerated. They should be warned now that their days of mischiefs are numbered.”
The hackers, added the Prime Minister Tuilaepa, will be used by government to track down the ghost writers.
“It’s like using a thief to catch a thief,” he said.
The proposed Act is anticipated to be tabled in the next Parliament session which is next Monday.