Leading anti-vaccine activist arrested
Perhaps Samoa’s most prominent locally-based anti-vaccination activist, Edwin Tamasese, was arrested by Police this afternoon in what could be the first criminal crackdown on discouraging clinical treatments.
Mr. Tamasese was arrested by Police in Savaii at an unnamed Police station, following what Police say was the breach of a written warning asking him to formally case his anti-vaccination activities.
Mr. Tamasese has been an extremely outspoken critic of vaccinations. He has coordinated with international anti-vaccination movement figures in America to dispense Vitamin A or D and other treatments as alternatives to a routine measles vaccine.
Mr. Tamasese recently also posted an ominous warning about the claimed side-effects of vaccinations on children. "I'll be here to mop up your mess. Enjoy your killing spree,” he said after the Government’s mass vaccination plan was unveiled.
He was arrested early on Thursday afternoon, an event that coincides with Thursday’s shutdown of the Government and the private sector so that the Government can carry out a mass vaccination programme.
“He hasn’t been charged yet but the investigation is still ongoing,” the Police Commissioner, Fuiavailili Egon Keil, told the Samoa Observer.
“As soon as we know the true extent we will know exactly if he’s going to be charged or not.”
News of Mr. Tamasese's arrest has been spreading quickly within the anti-vaccine community who haveposted sympathetic and conspiracy-minded messages of support.
Under the expanded terms of state of emergency provisions passed by Cabinet last month, it was illegal to “discourage” or “prevent” anyone from receiving vaccinations, which have also been made compulsory.
The Commissioner noted that Mr. Tamasese had received a written warning this week warning him about his anti-vaccination efforts both online and offline.
“It seems he persisted down that track which is why he has been detained and brought in for questioning” the Commissioner said.
The Commissioner said while Mr. Tamasese remained in custody it would not be known until later this evening if he was going to be charged.
“I don’t want to say too much right now because it is still a pending case and there are a lot of avenues we are trying to take on this case but we will be very careful because we don’t want to violate his rights as well,” he said.
“We are looking at the overall welfare of the country at this moment and the influences he is impacting on society right now as we are trying to fight this epidemic.
“There is a whole host of things we are taking a look at and there is enough to charge him we will and if not we will release him.”
Mr. Tamasese had earlier posted on social media about receiving donations of Vitamins A and C from anti-vaccination activists - known colloquially as anti-vaxxers - to dispense to members of the public.
Mr. Tamasese attributed curative and even lifesaving properties to the vitamins.
He could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
But earlier this week in an online interview with the Samoa Observer he denied charges of presenting himself as a doctor or clinical expert.
“i am a Taulasea [traditional healer],” he said.
“I do recognise however when my plant treatments need to be complimented [sic] with synthetics.”
Earlier controversy surrounded another purported salesman of an alternative to vaccines: Kangen water, a de-alkalised water from Japan which local salesman Fritz Filisi Alai’asa said had curative properties. These claims have been denied by the Japanese parent company of the bottled water and the Japanese Embassy both.
Mr. Alai’asa had opened a ‘clinic’ where children were offered the chance to be sprayed with Kangen water as part of a ‘treatment’ for $10 tala; he reportedly attracted 2000 customers within a fortnight.
Upon telling Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi that Mr. Alai’asa had invoked the Prime Minister’s name as having authorised his decision to re-open his clinic, Tuilaepa told the Samoa Observer he should be be arrested by Police.
But Police instead spoke to Mr. Alai’asa - who has threatened to sue this newspaper - and convinced him to keep his clinic closed without the need for criminal charges.
Despite warnings from the Attorney General that those that stand in the way of the mass vaccination campaign could face the full force of the law, the Police have generally expressed the view that imprisonment should be seen as a last resort.
“Samoa Police is endeavoring to continue to provide advice and warnings without having to resort to other enforcement measures,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Papali’i Monalisa Tiai – Keti.
“By working together as parents, villages, church and as a whole community we can achieve a safe Samoa.
“This is a much more effective and practical approach during this health crisis.
“However, if anyone continues to defy these orders the Samoa Police will have to resort to other enforcement measures including arrest to ensure the overall safety of the public.”