Today we publish the first part in a 5 part editorial. To appreciate the entire set of events, we urge you to read each part through over the next four days.
Every time Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi accuses the Samoa Observer of being run by “idiots and fools”, my mind zooms backwards in time to 23 April 1997.
That was when an Asian man arrived at Faleolo Airport; upon questioning, the man told the immigration official on duty his name was Kim Quang-I1. The rest was a mystery. Now all that the immigration official knew was that the plane Kim Quang-I1 had arrived in came from Tonga, he was either Chinese, Korean or Japanese, and since he did not have an address to go to in Samoa, he was detained at Tafaigata Prison.
Fifteen days later, on 8 May 1997, he was a mystery no more. On that day, under questioning at the Magistrate’s Court, it was revealed that the man was an impersonator. Kim Quang-I1 told the interpreter his real name was Jin Jipei; he also revealed he was Chinese.
This time it appears that those fifteen days of horror at Tafaigata have obviously rattled his resolve, and now that the ambiguity shrouding his identity was removed he was acquiescent; he was willing to reveal all having obviously been persuaded that being defiant did not work well at notorious Tafaigata.
Jin Jipei now told the court he sincerely thought the passport he had bought in Tonga was “authorized.” He confessed he had made a regretful mistake and entered a plea of not guilty.
He was again detained in custody until 11 June 1997; which means he would now be spending a total of more than two months at mind-bending Tafaigata; the thought might have been paralyzing.
But the passport scandal has become the government’s most pestering headache. It was the most-talked-about issue with many accusing the government of lying to cover it up.
Letters to the editor scoffed at the government accusing it of being corrupt. And yet the louder the public outcry the harder the government was defending itself; it continued to maintain it had no knowledge of passports being sold illegally abroad.
And then in early May 1997 word from Tafaigata Prison said prisoner Jin Jipei was no longer interested in life. A story titled “Detained Chinese not doing well” appearing on the Samoa Observer’s front page of 9 May 1997, quoted a “police warden” as saying Jin Jipei was “not so good.”
Asked to explain, he said sometimes Jipei would not eat.
“So we try to make him eat something,” the warden said, and explained Jipei was deteriorating both physically and mentally.
In the same edition an editorial comment titled: “This passport scandal will just not go away,” asked: “Did Jin Jipei envision being jailed here after he had spent thousands of dollars buying his passport, his so-called ticket to a new life?
“We doubt it. He was most likely thinking the most pleasant thoughts instead in anticipation of a new life of peace and freedom in paradise.
“He must be regretting all that now, and screaming inside: ‘Thanks for the hospitality Samoa. Thanks for the dream!’ It is something for the PM and his immigration people to think about.”
On 11 May 1997, another story titled “Concern over Jipei’s health shown” was published on the front page of the Sunday Samoan. It said, concerned over Jipei’s health members of the public have asked that he be released on humanitarian grounds.
Locked up in a small room with other prisoners awaiting trial “they are not allowed to go outside,” a warden confirmed. “They must remain inside that room until their trials.
“The room is very small with little space to move around,” he explained. “The usual food are some fingers of boiled banana, and a piece of mutton the size of your finger.”
Over the following weeks the public response was intense. Letters to the editor urging that Jin Jipei be released were published. Under the headline “Set Jin Jipei free” one writer wrote: “Jin Jipei should not be in prison because of a few corrupt government officials who wanted to make easy money.
“This will make another scar on Samoa’s reputation in the eyes of the international community. Looking forward to a fair and corrupt free Samoa.”
Another under the title, “Others should be locked up instead”, the writer wrote: “Why is he being locked up at Tafaigata? He only bought the passport. Surely, the people who sold him the passport should be locked up instead.
“What a strange way our democratic system works? For goodness sake, this is an island. Where could he run to?”
Yet another was a prayer by “Young Samoans fighting for JUSTICE.”
“GOD, no doubt you read our minds and hear
our cry for justice and freedom, we care so much
for Samoa, so we gather in groups and share
our disbelief there is so much corruption
in our ruling government so that they do not know
but we feel the struggle and pain of those poor people
in the villages and we see; we see the growing number
of young people not at school and we just
CAN’T BEAR THE INJUSTICE OF THESE MEN!
Tomorrow’s Part 2 editorial, “Prime Minister’s new name? “Mr Tusifolau.”