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Call for investigation into Samoa police actions, curtailment of citizens' rights

Failing to intervene in a minor assault on reporters and smashing the phone of a young boy shows police in Samoa need training in freedoms enjoyed by all citizens, says the Pacific Freedom Forum.

"Some police may not always like the criticism or scrutiny that news media and the digital age brings but that does not absolve them of their duty to protect the law," says PFF Chair, Titi Gabi.

"Standing by while threats are made against reporters and doing nothing when an attempt was made to wrestle cameras off them betrays a basic lack of understanding of legal principles on the part of at least some police in Samoa," she says.

"Grabbing someone's phone and smashing it amounts to assault, theft and damage to property, all illegal under any normal laws."

Speaking from Port Moresby, Gabi called on the officers in both incidents to be investigated and disciplined.

"Police can no more interfere with the lawful work of the press, which is the Fourth Estate, than they could with the first three estates.

"Failing to assist journalists under attack is the same as turning their back on an assault against a member of parliament, a cabinet minister or a judge."

"Journalists also have the same basic human rights as any other citizen."

On 22 May 2013, reporters working for Samoa Observer were at the scene of an accident when the driver of a flipped water truck approached and demanded they hand over cameras.

He grabbed the arm of one female reporter seated in a car marked with the name of the newspaper, and tried to wrestle a camera off her, but she resisted. The driver then threatened retaliation if any photos were published.

Police at the scene did nothing to intervene, shrugging off requests for assistance from the reporters.

Samoa Observer Editor-in-Chief Savea Sano Malifa told staff to lay an assault complaint with police, and put the photos, the assault and the threats on the front page of the newspaper next day.

That next morning, 23 May, police conducted a raid on a local market and arrested three men and two women for allegedly selling drugs.

One officer approached a youth who was filming the raid on his mobile, grabbed the phone and threw it on the ground, smashing it.

PFF co-Chair Monica Miller described the incident as "astonishing."

"The people of Samoa rightfully pride themselves on a culture of humility and politeness, yet police sometimes appear not just arrogant, but lawless."

Based in Pagopago, Miller called on police in Samoa to seek regular and sustained training on the rights of all citizens, protected under the constitution.

"Police officers cannot make the law up as they go along - they need to have a better understanding of public rights, and protect and cherish them deeply."

"Centuries of legal precedence the world over tells us that events taking place in a public space, such as on a road, may be observed, recorded and commented upon by anyone, at any time, under any circumstance."

PFF extends an invitation to the police force of Samoa to consult over both matters, so reporters can do their job safely, and citizens may fully enjoy basic freedoms.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by Samoa in 1992, article 19 defends the right to freedoms of speech, as follows:

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Samoa is also a 2008 signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states:

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

Emphasis added.

PFF states that journalists doing their job or people filming in a public place cannot be considered a threat to public order, health or morals.

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