“It’s like using a thief to catch a thief,” reveals the thief hunter, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.

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Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa

Let’s face it. A lot has been said about the invisible chap called Ole Palemia - none of which is endearing to the ears of those he’s been teasing from wherever he’s hiding anyway - and yet it seems as if he’s just biding his time as he’s waiting patiently for the right moment when he knows, it’s safe to strike again and again.

No wonder Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who appears to have been chosen by Ole Palemia as his target to taunt and humiliate, is reviving the evil Law of Criminal Libel to track Ole Palemia down.

Now the question is: What is Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, planning to do when Ole Palemia is found? Now that’s the question for which an answer we’re quite keen to know.

Still, early this month, Tuilaepa revealed the Attorney General had been asked to look into reintroducing the Law of Criminal Libel, with the idea of using it to track Old Palemia down. 

Abolished by the government in 2013 , when the late Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana passed away, Criminal Libel was an archaic British law the government there used to quell rebellion and treason, and the punishment was invariably described as “hell on earth”.

This is to say those who were found guilty under that law were hanged in the gallows, or they were thrown in the dungeons where they remained, never to be seen again.

In any case, so evil was the punishment that had been meted out against such prisoners the British government, during more recent times when it had colonies all over the world, abolished the Law of Criminal Libel and vowed, it would not have anything to do with it again.

And yet here in Samoa in the nineties, the government of the Human Rights Protection Party, fired up by both anger and revulsion perhaps, adopted the British Law of Criminal Libel in a scheme to put what they claimed, was a recalcitrant editor behind bars.

Fortunately for the editor though, Prime Minister Tofilau passed away, and sometime later the trial was discontinued by the court.

Later still, the government abolished the Law of Criminal Libel and yet today, it is being revived by the Attorney General’s Office on the government’s advice,  Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malilegaoi, has revealed.

And why is this law being revived? 

“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,” the government’s Press Secretary has revealed.

“One such page is known as Ole Palemia, and the Police had launched an investigation to find out who is responsible for the page but then up till now, they have not been successful.” 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa himself explained: “(The goal is) to find the writers hiding behind anonymity by using their freedom of expression, to vent their vile and demeaning allegations on social media.

“This will no longer be tolerated.”  

And how is the government going to achieve it’s aim?

Explained Tuilaepa: “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,” he pointed out, “will be used by government to track down the ghost writers. 

“It’s like using a thief to catch a thief,” he said.

Tuilaepa added “When the ghost writers are found, they will be brought to justice to answer to their writings. 

“And they could be liable to be prosecuted with offenses that will include imprisonment.”

Well, that’s a bit of a worry, since now that Prime Minister himself has just revealed: “The H.R.P.P caucus is in full support.”

Why didn’t he say: “The entire Parliament is in full support?”

And then surprisingly enough, the Acting President of the Journalists Association of Western Samoa (J.A.W.S.), Rudy Bartley, showed up.

He did when J.A.W.S.’s public statement titled “Govt’s criminal libel move ‘serious concern’, was published in the paper on Tuesday.

The statement said: “J.A.W.S. is calling on the government to find ‘a more realistic’ solution to track “ghost writers” who use fake social media pages to attack members of the public.”

Well that’s refreshing. 

Mr Bartley said he believed “the move to reintroduce the Criminal Libel Law, which had been removed in 2013, is not the best way forward for Samoa.” 

He also said: “As President, I believe the re-introduction of the Criminal Libel Law is a serious concern, and it will have a negative impact on the work of the media in Samoa.

“Freedom of the media to do its work is fundamental to any democracy, and laws which hinder this is not acceptable.” 

Mr. Bartley continued: “J.A.W.S. exists to help, develop and protect the work of the media and its practitioners in Samoa. 

 “We are also concerned about the use of social media as a platform for slander and malicious attacks.

“I assume this is the reason the government is reintroducing this law. 

“Those behind these attacks have tarnished the work and integrity of the media as a source of knowledge and information for our people.” 

He also said he believed that “the government should find a more realistic, and practical solution other than reintroducing this law.”

He revealed though that the matter would be discussed in depth by the members of J.A.W.S.  when they hold their annual general meeting on 27 November.

It’s doubtful though that Prime Minister Tuilaepa would listen to any advice from anyone else from now on. 

Earlier this month he denied suggestions that his government’s decision to revive the Criminal Libel law was a part of a move, to restrict freedom of speech. 

No way, Tuilaepa said then.

What he said was that in hindsight, he regretted his decision to remove Criminal Libel from the law books, in the first place. 

He explained: “I should have never abolished this law which catered to protect victims of defamation. 

 “There have been writings that accuse me of being a dictator in relation to the Criminal Libel. But it is not my law. The writers are in favor of those doing the damage. What about those who are victims of defamation?”  

He also said: “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 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.” 

“Now looking back during the small time the said law was abolished, defamation has increased significantly here in Samoa,” Tuilaepa said.  

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.”

He’s probably right. Still how about today’s Members of Parliament? Do they know? By the way, have they had a look at those Audit Reports to Parliament? 

Well, perhaps they have; in that case then, let them go ahead and revive the evil called the Law of Criminal Libel. Let them. After all, they say “it’s like using a thief to catch a thief.” They know.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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