Charged anti-vaccine activist facing up to two years

Samoa's most famous locally-based anti-vaccination activist is facing up to two years' jail after being charged with "incitement against the Government vaccination order[s]."

Edwin Tamasese, a traditional healer and manager of a coconut farmers' collective, was arrested and held in custody for questioning in Savaii on Thursday afternoon.

He was charged later on Thursday evening and denied bail, the Attorney General's Office said in a statement late on Thursday.

The allegation is that Mr. Tamasese, made an ominous social media post with reference to the current vaccination drive: "I will be here to mop up your mess. Enjoy your killing spree." 

Mr. Tamasese has recently become an increasingly prominent local voice in the global anti-vaccination movement - a group known colloquially as anti-vaxxers - and procured and spruiked various vitamins, colloidal silver powders and charcoal as alternatives to vaccines. 

In a recent interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he said while he had personally 'treated' up to 70 people he described his work as mainly concerned with encouraging people, particularly in rural areas, to stay away from hospitals and immunisation centres.

Discouraging or preventing people from receiving vaccines was made criminal under the state of emergency proclamation in Samoa last month, which also made receiving vaccines mandatory.

Mr.Tamasese was instead charged with violating section 41 of the 2013 Crimes Act which forbids inciting hostility against the Government of Samoa in circumstances where a risk of "lawlessness, violence, or disorder" is present.

The Police Commissioner, Fuiavailiili Egon Keil, had on Thursday alleged Mr. Tamasese ignored earlier formal written warnings sent to him to cease online and offline activism.

The Attorney General's office said it had referred Mr. Tamasese's case to the Police after a member of the public complained

Mr. Tamasese will remain in custody until the first available court date, following the two-day shutdown of Government operations which ends on Friday. His likelihood of reoffending was cited as the reason for denying bail, which will also mean he is behind bars for the remainder of the Government's door-to-door vaccination drive.

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"We reiterate that while the goal is to keep the peace, we will advise Police to act when we have no choice," the statement read.

Mr. Tamasese had established strong links with overseas 'anti-vaxxers' in America and Australia who have been providing him with up to 70 donations of alternative 'treatments'.

The Police have previously expressed a preference for community-based regulation of anti-vaccination behaviour and the purveyors of 'alternative', non-clinical treatments such as their recent shutting down of a controversial Kangen water treatment 'clinic' that sole de-alkalised water as a treatment. 

This weekend, and following a long conversation between Officers and the business' owner, Fritz Filisi Alai’asa, it was closed by mutual agreement.

On Thursday evening Fuiavailiili said it was Mr. Tamasese's alleged refusal to follow formal Police instructions that led to his arrest

"It seems he persisted down that track which is why he has been detained,” the Commissioner said.

On Thursday Government Spokesman and Minister of Communication Information and Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupai, told reporters protecting the community was the  Government's sole priority and purveyors of alternative treatments were endangering lives by causing sometimes fatal delays to seeking treatment.

"A lot of people are keeping their [children] at home until there's nothing else [and they see hospital] as a last resort," he said.

"That's another major reason now for the increasing number of deaths.

"Some arrive [at a hospital] and nothing can be done so the law is cracking down."

Mr. Tamasese could not be reached for comment but 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.”

On Thursday in a Facebook post apparently posted from the back of a Police car Mr. Tamasese said: "Well it's come to this".

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