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Samoa govt harassing reporter for “doing her job," Observer claims

Police Commissioner, Auapa'au Logoitino Filipo
Source: Samoa Observer

Apia, SAMOA — The wife of a Cabinet Minister lodged a complaint on Friday night with the Samoa police against a journalist from the Samoa Observer newspaper, according to a report in the independent nation’s leading newspaper.

The complaint stems from a story that Samoa Observer reporter Sialai Sarafina Sanerivi was working on, in connection to the American Samoa-registered vessel Kite Runner, which entered Samoan territorial waters two weeks ago and the Observer says, was seized by the police.

According to the Observer, a Samoa Government official tipped the newspaper on Friday of the alleged involvement of a Cabinet Minister in getting documentation organized for the foreign vessel's visit to Upolu and then to Savai'i.

Ms. Sanerivi contacted the Police Commissioner, Auapa'au Logoitino Filipo for a comment on the matter as the Ministry of Police has been tasked with carrying out an investigation into the unlawful entry of the vessel. However, Auapa'au said they have not finalized their investigation, while expressing disappointment that Samoa Government officials at border control in Matautu opted to disclose information to the media that police were not privy to.

But that was only the opening salvo.

Attempts by this newspaper to get a comment from the Minister of Customs and Revenue, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio were not successful and when the reporter contacted the owner of the boat, American Samoa businessman, Papali'i Lauli'i Alofa for a comment, he insisted that this newspaper should reach out to the "people in Samoa" who were working on the paperwork for his vessel. 

"I told you already, I have people that worked on the papers. Why [are] you asking me stupid questions like that? You don't need to call me, we are not the same, you don't get to call me,” according to the quoted material in the Observer. 

The Observer further says the Minister for Communication and Information Technology, Toelupe Poumulinuku Onesemo, was contacted on Friday to confirm the report that it was his office that allegedly received the paperwork from the Pago Pago businessman. 

Toelupe then claimed that the Samoa Observer is trying to discredit him and made reference to a case that was linked to him when he was the C.E.O. of the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure (MWTI), which he argued ruined his reputation and had a negative impact on his children, family, and the constituency.

Reminded by the Samoa Observer reporter that she was only doing her job, the Minister lashed out at her, saying: "That's not a nice job you do, you're wasting your time!" According to the reporter, the Minister then lashed out at his own employee, saying that if his secretary had done a good job, nothing would've come up and the boat would have returned without any issues. 

Taking one more poke at the reporter Toelupe called her "arrogant" saying that he did not like "her tone" and he would get people from the newspaper to answer questions. 

It was Toelupe's wife who was alleged to have lodged a complaint against Ms. Sanerivi.

Read more at Samoa Observer