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Extradition 'politically motivated': Amnesty International

Global human rights watchdog Amnesty International has expressed concern Samoa’s extradition request for Australian resident Talalelei Pauga could be politically motivated.

Amnesty International Pacific researcher, Kate Schuetze, told the Samoa Observer it is highly unusual for extradition orders to be made over a conspiracy to commit murder charge, and that usually it is over a more serious charge like murder.

She said considering Mr. Pauga is a resident of Australia who has been living in Australia, the Samoa Government could have opted to pass on evidence of his committing a crime to the local authorities instead of moving to extradite him.

“I think there is a real risk this is a politically motivated charge,” Ms. Schuetze said.

“You have an individual who has been quite critical of the Government and its policies, and to some degree has probably been deeply offensive of the Prime Minister, but that in and of itself is not a crime.

“We really need to know what the evidence is being brought by the Samoa Government in this case so the extradition request can be considered in light of any credible evidence they might have.”

Australian extradition laws have a low evidence threshold, meaning the courts do not require a country to have much or any evidence against a person, before they try to extradite someone.

In Mr. Pauga’s case, Samoa has not shared what evidence it has against him and Ms. Schuetze said she hopes this will be raised in the Brisbane courts so that Australia can decide whether he can be extradited.

“Under international human rights law [Pauga] is entitled to know the case against him and prepare his defence in response to that case,” she said.

“I think where there is a case that it might be politically motivated like this one, there should be a stronger threshold to prove charges are legitimate and based on evidence, before a person is extradited.”

In addition, she fears Samoa’s complex judicial context will work against Mr. Pauga and he risks not receiving a fair trial.

Police in Samoa have alleged that the alleged conspirators exchanged money over their plan to kill the Prime Minister, and that they executed a search warrant into this suspicion. 

Between the proposed radical reforms to the justice system and constitution, and the way Samoa’s Chief Justice appointments are made, she said Australia needs to think carefully about whether it can guarantee Mr. Pauga’s safety in Samoa.

“I am not saying [he] wouldn’t get a fair trial in Samoa, I am saying there are risks and a context here that needs to be known before a person is sent back into that situation.

“Ultimately Australia cannot send a person back where there is a risk of violation in relation to fair trial rights or other serious human rights issues that might arise.

“I think so far there hasn’t been an opportunity through the courts to raise some of those issues […] hopefully through the legal process in Australia those issues can be raised.”

Ms. Schuetze became aware of Mr. Pauga’s situation last week when his extradition charges were heard in the Brisbane district court, six weeks after his arrest in August. 

“It’s quite unusual in Australia for a person to be brought before the courts immediately after their arrest and detention,” she said.

“Every person has the right to challenge the lawfulness and reason for their detention and the court has a responsibility to assess whether detention is strictly necessary.”

It was his first time before a court since his arrest, which came after the Samoa Government requested his extadition to Samoa to face trial over allegations of conspiracy to murder the Prime Minister, along with three other men.

Last week in court his application for release as he fights to avoid extradition was rejected. His lawyers argue he is being unlawfully detained because of this delay between his arrest and his first court appearance. They are also arguing he is not a flight risk, but Samoa’s lawyers are opposing this. 

On Wednesday night in a radio interview, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi made thinly veiled threats against Mr. Pauga.

“It is important to note that when you are involved in a conspiracy to do bad things, you will get caught in the middle of it all,” he said. 

“The Australia Judiciary is quite different from ours and that the case should have been heard here [in Samoa] but they have their own laws and so we wait. 

He said it is not enough to have not actually committed murder, but that “when you conspire to commit murder under the law you are involved.”

Earlier this month, Police Commissioner Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil told the Samoa Observer that any threat against the Prime Minister will not be taken lightly, calling such instances as threats against the whole country. 

“The Police Service will not sit idle when there are threats targeting the Prime Minister […] we will act accordingly.”

Meanwhile none of Mr. Pauga’s co-accused are in remand awaiting a trial.

Tuilaepa wrote to the Ministry of Justice and Court Administration when two of them, Lema'i Faioso Sione and Malele Atofu Paulo, were released on bail.

It was a move that was widely criticised with rivals saying he was using his position to interfere with a court proceeding, in which he was also a party.

The fourth co-accused, Taualai Leiloa, pled guilty to the assassination plot in February.

“The stark contrast is you have co-accused in Samoa who are not held in detention yet you have an Australian held in detention on an extradition request with very little evidence produced to the courts in relation to those charges,” Ms. Schuetze added. 

She is concerned Mr. Pauga’s right to the presumption of innocence has not been upheld and that he has yet to get the opportunity to challenge his detention, especially in the context of COVID-19.

“A person should not be detained unless absolutely necessary,” she said.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic and there are very few flights leaving Australia. You would assume someone in this context is not a high flight risk. 

“There is a whole range of circumstances here around his detention and whether he needs to be held in detention until the courts decide the final outcome of the extradition process.”

On Friday 2 October the first flight bringing Samoan citizens from Australia since the pandemic will land at the Faleolo International Airport.

But Ms. Schuetze said she will be very surprised if Mr. Pauga ends up on that flight, given he is in the middle of legal proceedings in Australia.

Before any decision is made on his extradition he, like anyone else, needs his “day in court” to either challenge the lawfulness of his detention, the extradition order, or both. 

“But strange things have happened. Once he gets to Samoa, Mr. Pauga’s fate is in Samoa’s hands," she added.

“Ultimately he would be within the jurisdiction and control of the Samoa Government, which means the Samoa Government would have the responsibility to protect, respect and uphold his human rights whilst he is there.”

The Attorney General has been approached for comment.

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