TONGAN MP 'AKILISI POHIVA ACQUITTED OF CRIMINAL LIBEL CHARGE

By Michael J. Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (March 5, 1998 - Agence France-Presse)---Tongan pro-democracy Member of Parliament 'Akilisi Pohiva said Thursday the Kingdom's Supreme Court had acquitted him of charges of criminal libel.

He was taken to court over a 1994 article in the Wall Street Journal which quoted him as saying King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was dictatorial.

Although the judgment of New Zealand Justice Daniel Finnigan has not been seen here, Pohiva said he was acquitted of the charge which was laid against him after a group of women petitioned the king to have him charged.

"It is exciting and wonderful news," Pohiva said from Nuku'alofa.

Tonga's 100,000 commoners elect nine representatives while the kingdom's 30 nobles elect nine of their own to sit in the 30-seat assembly. The 12 members of Cabinet are appointed for life terms by the king.

Pohiva has campaigned for a more democratic constitution.

Pohiva said the women who petitioned for his charge claimed the Wall Street Journal article had made the king look like former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

"What I told the court and what I said to the journalist in American was that His Majesty was a dictator, but I was not referring to the person of His Majesty, but to the constitution which is dictatorial," Pohiva said.

The article referred to the king in the context of money from the sale of Tongan passports to foreigners and the proceeds of a satellite operation not being properly accounted for before Parliament.

Pohiva said he had never said anything personal against the king.

"What I have been accusing His Majesty of is the rule under the constitution and that is why I have been trying to change the constitution to save the king."

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: Fax (64 21) 694-035 E-MAIL: afp.nz@clear.net.nz

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