Jail term for King Faipopo a warning, Attorney General says
Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, believes the District Court’s decision to jail King Faipopo for a Facebook post defaming Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, should be a lesson for all social media users.
In an email to the Samoa Observer after Judge Alalatoa Rosella Papali’i delivered the sentence on Friday, Lemalu said the decision sends a clear "message" to online users about the content of their posts.
“In terms therefore of public interest, it sends a message,” Lemalu said.
“One cannot abuse the use of social media, by purposely and intentionally attacking the character of another in public, with no proof or evidence, without consequences.”
King Faipopo, whose real name is Malele Atofu, has been jailed for seven weeks. The 45-year-old father of four children had pleaded guilty to a charge of Criminal Libel, a plea he later wanted to reverse. The Court denied the request.
Born and raised in Vailoa Aleipata, the father who is normally based in Australia, kept a smile on his face when he exited the Court room.
The Attorney General denied that the jailing of King Faipopo is a restriction on freedom of speech and opinion.
“The issue here therefore, is not the freedom of speech to express an opinion, the public can express opinions as much as they desire,” he said.
“The issue is, that one cannot present to the public false statements as though they were true facts, without any evidence to support them, fully intending to harm the reputation and it follows the family and life of the person that the false statements are aimed at.”
Lemalu added King Faipopo’s criminal libel case is particularly relevant in the age of social media.
King Faipopo was represented by lawyers, Unasa Iuni Sapolu and Josefina Fuimaono-Sapolu. Asked for a comment, Unasa said she would discuss the Court’s verdict with Paulo and decide whether to appeal the matter.
“He does have 14 days to appeal it so I will have discussion with him,” she said.
About the ruling, Unasa said the decision is one that will be welcomed by “people with authority”.
She did not name anyone.
“But the average person and I’m thinking about my children and grandchildren – they enjoy talking on social media and this is an attempt at limiting with respect (their) rights to social media,” she said.
The senior lawyer also commented on matters raised in Court where she was singled out for making comments on the post that led to the charge against King Faipopo.
In her decision, Judge Alalatoa took time to discuss the idea of sharing information on Facebook and other social media network – to maximise dissemination to gauge more audience online.
The Judge pointed out that in this instance, each share made by others on Paulo’s post defaming the Prime Minister “reverberates the false information you deliberately posted online”.
She said Unasa and Paulo’s wife supported the post where the complainant Tuilaepa was “further harassed, ridiculed belittled and made the laughing stock and subject to cyber bullying.”
But Unasa defended her actions.
“Why should I not comment? My comments are usually educational.”
The lawyer also expressed disappointment about the references made in Court to the Samoa Solidarity International Group (S.S.I.G.) and the O.L.P.
During her sentence, Judge Alalatoa referred to a Restorative of Justice Court report where Paulo described himself as the voice for the voiceless and acknowledged the support of O.L.P. and S.S.I.G.
Judge Alalatoa said the defendant is no doubt associated with the groups.
"S.S.I.G. is a political party with its main agenda being saving Samoa and customary land," said the Judge.
"The O Le Palemia blog is a fake Facebook page of anonymous ghostwriters similar to a gossip column generating fake news. It is known for its character assassination blogs and crusade against the victim, prominent government and public officials and private individuals. The page however has no legal standing or credibility and unreliable."
Unasa clarified that S.S.I.G. is not a political party but an Incorporated Society that has done “amazing things raising awareness on human rights and customary lands.”
"I’m not O.L.P.” she said. “It is really sad when these are tossed around accusing a certain sector of the community who are powerless."