TONGA RIOT ‘RINGLEADER’ TO SERVE SEVEN YEARS

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TONGA RIOT ‘RINGLEADER’ TO SERVE SEVEN YEARS

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Aug 10) – A total of seven years imprisonment was imposed today on a ringleader in the destruction of a Chinese shop in Nuku'alofa, in the first major prison sentencing handed down on crimes committed during the riots of November 16 last year.

"Rioters will not be tolerated by the court and will be punished accordingly," Chief Justice Anthony Ford told Ma'ake Kali (30) married of Popua, stating "you willingly took part in the mayhem that prevailed on this day"

"The crimes you were found guilty of are very serious offences and the events on 16/11 will live in the memory of all Tongans for years to come."

Kali was found guilty by jurors in July on two charges of riotous assembly; and a second and more serious charge of riotous assembly that began and resulted in the destruction of various buildings in Nuku'alofa.

In this case it was the Chinese operated Rainbow Store in the CBD when Kali threw the first rock breaking the shop's glass entrance door allowing other rioters to enter, looting goods and eventually torching the building, which burnt to the ground.

Mr Justice Ford imposed on Kali a sentence of three years imprisonment for the first charge of riotous assembly and seven years for the second charge of riotous assembly that destroyed the Rainbow Store on 16/11.

He will serve his sentences concurrently, which means he will serve a total of seven years at Hu'atolitoli Prison, effective today.

Ringleader

Chief Justice Ford said in his sentencing that the evidence showed that on the afternoon of November 16, 2006, a group of rioters set out from Pangai Si'i to the Molisi Tonga Supermarket, the Pacific Royale Hotel and the Shoreline Office.

A group estimated at about 200-300 people assembled outside the Rainbow Store and they yelled for the store to be destroyed before they entered, trashed the store and threw out goods for looters, and then setting it on fire.

Mr Justice Ford told Kali that he claimed in his evidence that he did not take part in the riot assembly and that he gave evidence that he went with a friend to the Molisi Tonga, Pacific Royale Hotel and Shoreline out of curiosity and to see the damage. He also claimed not going near the Rainbow Shop because he went home to Popua in a taxi and never came back to town on this particular day.

Reliable witness

The Chief Justice said that the Crown called 'Ofa Moala a reliable witness who worked at the 21st Century Shop across from the Rainbow Shop, who said otherwise. She told the court that she knew Ma'ake Kali back in the 1990's because she stayed at Popua and she identified him standing at the forefront of the rioting crowd outside the Rainbow Shop where she saw him throw the first rock breaking the glass entrance at the shop.

Mr Justice Ford said that 'Ofa was a credible and convincing witness and the jury was quite right in his view to agree with her evidence. "And I am satisfied that you were one of the ringleaders of the group of rioters at the Rainbow Shop."

He also told Kali that the crimes he was found guilty of are very serious offences and that "the events on 16/11 will live in the memory of all Tongans for years to come.

"And rioters will not be tolerated by the court and will be punished accordingly," he emphasised.

Mayhem

The Chief Justice also told Kali that while he may not have been one of the political activists that were meeting at Pangai Si'i, "but you willingly took part in the mayhem that prevailed on this day and in your case your action as a willing participant as one of the ringleaders, you threw the first stone and that action allowed other rioters to enter the store. The degree of the violence you committed was extreme in every aspect and the extent of your offence saw the building destroyed," he said.

Ma'ake Kali who had a previous conviction in 2001 where he was sentenced to four years of imprisonment for trafficking drugs was not entitled to a suspended sentence. He was also not entitled to a guilty plea because he pleaded not guilty in this case.

This is the first jury case to be declared guilty by a jury at the Supreme Court relating to the events of 16/11.

Sione Sisifa appeared as the Crown Prosecutor with Mana Kaufusi representing the accused.

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