Group calls on Australia to stop extradition to Samoa
The Samoa Solidarity International Group is petitioning the Australian Government to revoke its extradition treaty with Samoa, as Samoan Talalelei Pauga awaits an extradition hearing in Queensland custody.
Their petition, launched earlier this month, has around 140 signatories from New Zealand, Australia and Samoa, also calls for Australia to review its extradition laws.
Samoa requested Pauga’s extradition and filed his arrest warrant over charges of his alleged part in a conspiracy to murder Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi.
S.S.I.G. writes that it wants Australia’s Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights to review whether the country’s extradition laws are “compatible” with human rights and for the committee to report on its findings of any review to Parliament.
It also makes a series of 16 points, detailing issues with Samoa’s extradition request.
S.S.I.G. states Pauga was in Australia during the time period when he is accused of committing a crime (against Samoan laws), and that he has not been charged or questioned by Australian police over the alleged crime.
The petition highlights how Australia’s Extradition Act does not require a country to provide evidence supporting its requests, and that Pauga is not entitled to offer evidence in his defence.
It also breaks down how the target of the alleged conspiracy to murder is Prime Minister Tuileapa, who was Minister of Police when allegations against Pauga were investigated.
He is also the Minister responsible for the Attorney General, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and has been Prime Minister since 1998, the petitioners say.
Samoa’s Attorney General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale confirmed earlier this month that Samoa first requested Pauga’s extradition in February.
She said her office is “duty-bound” to pursue the case and begin criminal proceedings against him in Samoa, as there is “sufficient evidence” to support Samoa’s claims against him.
The evidence has not been made public, something international human rights watchdog Amnesty International is worried about.
Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said the extradition appears “politically motivated” because Pauga has been an outspoken critic of the Prime Minister.
Earlier this month, she said Samoa should have opted to give Australia any evidence it has against Pauga so that he could be prosecuted in Australia, where he was at the time the crime allegedly was committed.
“I think there is a real risk this is a politically motivated charge,” Ms. Scheutze 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 Samoan Government in this case so the extradition request can be considered in light of any credible evidence they might have.”
In 2018 he was charged after throwing a pig’s head at Tuilaepa during an event in Queensland.
The petition was published by S.S.I.G. member Uluata Ekuale.
Pauga now faces two legal processes in Australia, over whether his detention so far has been unlawful, and whether the Australian courts will find him eligible for extradition and agree to surrender him to Samoa.
Meanwhile, Pauga’s lawyer Greg Finlayson has already raised over AU$2000 (T$3,771) through the online platform Go Fund Me.
He is targeting $500,000 to cover Pauga’s legal fees for what could be a drawn-out extradition process.
Samoa and Australia have a non-treaty based extradition relationship, based on the Extradition (Samoa) Regulations 2010, which is under the Extradition Act 1988.
As it is not a treaty, Australia has no legal obligations under international law to honour Samoa’s request.
It is up to the Attorney General to make extradition decisions on a case-by-case basis if a person is found to be eligible for extradition. The Samoa Observer understands that there is no manual that outlines how the Act should be administered.
In court in September, the lawyer for Samoa Marc McKechnie said Samoa had made a lawful request to extradite Mr Pauga and Australia had to honour its obligations under international law.
* The headline of this article has been changed to reflect the fact that there is no existing extradition treaty between Australia and Samoa.