Supreme Court hears $700,000 lawsuit against Samoa Observer

The hearing of a $700,000 lawsuit brought by Reverend Opapo Soanai Oeti and his daughter, Toaipupuaga Patrick, against the Samoa Observer was held in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Supreme Court Judge, Justice Mata Tuatagaloa, presided. Rev. Opapo and his daughter, who maintained she is carrying the marks of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, also commonly referred to as the stigmata, were represented by lawyer, Muriel Lui. 

The Samoa Observer was represented by Su’a Hellene Wallwork, of Wallwork Lamb Lawyers.

The lawsuit targets the publication by the Samoa Observer of a letter to the editor titled “Stop this madness” written by pseudonym M.R. in the Samoa Observer’s edition of 29th March 2017. The letter in question was an online comment, in response to a story titled ”Church stigmata row deepens.” 

The plaintiffs claim the letter was defamatory, and that by the Samoa Observer publishing it, it printed a similar piece that had been posted on the Ole Palemia blog.

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Rev. Opapo and his daughter are asking for general damages of $400,000, aggravated damages of $200,000, punitive damages of $100,000 and costs.

In his evidence yesterday, Rev. Opapo told the Court the letter in question – and what had been posted on Ole Palemia - harmed his reputation and caused hurt to his family. 

He said the allegations played a big part in the decision by the Elders of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa to remove his Ministerial responsibilities in 2017.

Rev. Opapo also revealed that last year; the Church Elders reinstated his Ministerial duties so that he is now working as an Assistant Church Minister (Faifeau Fesoasoani) in Savai’i.

His daughter Toa filed an affidavit but was not questioned during the proceedings.

The Samoa Observer Editor, Mata’afa Keni Lesa, was the respondent’s only witness.  He strongly denied the allegations made by the plaintiff, saying the Samoa Observer cannot and must not be held accountable for the hurt caused by Ole Palemia.

He told the Court that the opinions section of the Samoa Observer offers readers and members of the public an opportunity to express their opinions about matters of public interest and feedback to stories that are relevant and topical at the time. 

The matter has been adjourned until 20 March 2019 for final submissions.

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