7 Jun 2003

Tonga again defends newspaper ban

9:25 am on 7 June 2003

The Tongan government has defended its refusal to allow the New Zealand-produced Taimi 'o Tonga newspaper to be distributed.

A government statement also says the king's refusal to acknowledge two Supreme Court rulings calling the ban unconstitutional are not unusual in Tonga.

It also says King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV is not trying to seize more power and is not ending press freedom in the kingdom.

Earlier this week, the government also presented a bill removing the right of the Supreme Court to review the king's decisions and amending constitutional provisions on press freedom.

The statement says that under English law, the courts have no right to interfere with the internal proceedings of parliament or the privy council, both of which have law-making roles.

It says Tonga is doing nothing more than clarifying the demarcations relating to the separation of powers between the executive, the parliament, and the judiciary.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand foreign minister, Phil Goff, says the government is urging Tonga to think very carefully about planned changes to the 128-year-old constitution.

New Zealand's High Commissioner in Tonga, Warwick Hawker, has met Tonga's acting prime minister, Cecil Cocker, to express concerns about the planned changes which would restrict human rights and press freedom in Tonga.

Mr Goff says Mr Hawker was told that his views would be conveyed to the Prime Minister, when he returns from overseas.

"We have expressed our concern that the collective impact of the changes that are being recommended in Tonga will have an impact on civil rights, on human rights in Tonga and we are urging the Tongan government to consider any changes very carefully."

Phil Goff says freedom of the press is fundamental to any decent society.