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NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Oct. 31, 2002 – PIR)---Tonga's new anti-terrorism legislation could be used to suppress political dissent. That's according to the Kingdom's Human Rights and Democracy Movement spokesman, Lopeti Senituli, who believes recently passed amendments to the Crimes Act are aimed, not at terrorists, but squarely at his organization.

It's a suggestion that has been rejected by Tonga's Acting Deputy Prime Minister Clive Edwards, who says the legislation simply supports international anti-terrorism initiatives.

The Tongan government had the legislation rushed through parliament in the aftermath of the recent Bali bombing. Edwards says it simply flags Tonga’s endorsement of the international community’s moves to crackdown on terrorism.

"It’s a signal that Tonga has a full commitment to the international move against terrorist activities that’s going around in places, even in Bali, in America. And we support the international community on the stand against these types of activities," he said.

"You may recall our International Shipping Registry was cancelled because some of the ships that were registered with Tonga were suspected of being involved with these types of activities, and even though we were looking into receiving some international fund from this type of registry, we had to forego it immediately because we do not want to support ships or anybody who are involved with these terrorist activities."

But Tonga’s Human Rights and Democracy movement fears they may actually be the real targets. Spokesman Senituli says he’s profoundly concerned about the definitions of terrorism.

"It says very clearly that an act of terrorism means an act which either intended or can reasonably be regarded as having been intended to, and I quote here, ‘seriously destabilize or destroy political, constitutional, economic or social structures of the country or an international organization,’" he said.

"Just at the end of August we submitted to parliament a proposal for an alternative structure of government, which is essentially seeking the total deconstruction of the existing political and constitutional structure of the country. Under this new amendment there is a real possibility it can be used against us."

Edwards says the key aspects of the new law are simply a definition of what constitutes terrorism and some severe penalties.

"We had to define these terrorist activities in the act. We had to define it and impose the penalties up to 25 years, which is the highest we’ve had, and of course if anybody dies as a result of these activities they’ll fall automatically under murder…You can be hung for that."

Edwards said the law was fully debated. The People’s Representatives held it up for a while. They wanted to add other items to impose the penalties. "But at the end of the day it was passed. It’d be fair to say it was a majority vote but not all."

Senituli doesn’t believe the existing laws needed amending at all. He says Tonga already has perfectly adequate ways of dealing with Ttrrorism.

"Now the Public Order Preservation Act deals specifically with a terrorist situation, of the possibility of, say, a group of people taking over part of the country," he said. "But I cannot understand why there was specific need for this subsection. It is being used as an opportunity to slot into our Criminal Offences Act--the legal requirement in order to attack us for peacefully trying to bring about democratic changes to the country."

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