SUPREME COURT YET TO DECIDE SAMOA OBSERVER-POLYNESIAN AIRLINES CASE

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (March 10, 1999 – Samoa News)---Polynesian Airlines officials will have to wait until next week to find out whether Samoa’s Supreme Court will agree with their complaint and send the top management of the country’s only independent newspaper to jail.

The government-owned airline filed a motion in court last week seeking the arrest of the Samoa Observer’s publisher and editor on a contempt of court order. This follows the newspaper’s publication of a Letter to the Editor and an Opinion that criticized the airline.

Supreme Court Judge Teafaasue Sapolu heard Polynesian Airlines’ side of the story on Monday, while the Samoa Observer provided its counter to the motion yesterday.

According to sources in Apia, the Judge decided to reserve his decision until next week Tuesday.

Although additional details of the court hearing could not be obtained, one source in Apia said that the Samoa Observer presented a good argument in court.

The source, who asked not to be identified, is very familiar with such cases and said, "The Samoa Observer did nothing wrong in publishing the Letter to the Editor and the Opinion because it said nothing about the salaries of Polynesian’s top executives, and that was the Samoa Observer’s argument in the case."

The planned publication of salaries and advances to airline officials prompted the courts to issue a Restraining Order to stop the paper from publishing the information.

Polynesian has been reluctant to respond to inquiries seeking comment and the Samoa Observer’s management declined to comment on the matter while the issue is before the Supreme Court.

Local media in the Territory have joined with Freedom of the Press organizations around the world in condemning the Samoa Government and its court for their actions.

Samoa News editor Scott McPhee, commenting on the matter, said, "This blatant act of denying basic freedoms we have come to take for granted can’t stand. The American Samoa Government must also take a stand on this issue. Its silence can only be taken as agreement with Samoa’s denial of this basic freedom — our First Amendment rights. The world is watching."

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