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Tonga

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Last updated on 21.05.2019 at 03:27

Tonga-Overview

The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago consisting of 176 islands, 26 of which are inhabited. Tonga is a constitutional monarchy in which civic space freedoms are constitutionally protected and mostly respected in practice.

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UN rights committee questions Tonga on freedom of expression for children

UN rights committee questions Tonga on freedom of expression for children

In May 2019, during the state review, the UN Committee on the Rights of a Child (CRC) questioned Tonga around the space for freedom of expression for children in the country. In April 2018, the press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) showed that Tonga had improved its ranking by six places

Expression

Child rights committee calls on state to encourage freedom of expression

On 14th May 2019, during the state review, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) questioned Tonga about the situation of freedom of expression for children in the country.

In its state report to the Committee, the government stated that while freedom of expression, is protected under the Constitution “children are required to listen and obey and not question the words of elders. They are not expected to intervene in the discussions of older family members”. Further “results collected from focus group discussions found that many people in society, including children, struggle with the concept of freedom of expression”.

During the state review, the CRC member and Co-Rapporteur for Tonga, Clarence Nelson asked the state delegation to explain its declaration that “children struggled with the concept of freedom of expression” and to outline the measures taken to encourage children’s enjoyment of freedom of expression and child participation in society.

While Nelson acknowledged that cultural challenges existed, he stated that the government had to overcome them so that “children might play a full role in the Tongan society”. He also questioned if there was any awareness among Tongan children of climate change and asked if the state delegation “believed the government should encourage the participation of children in climate change-related actions, such as the strikes that had recently taken place”.

Better press freedom rankings but media still faces challenges

In April 2019, the latest press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) showed that Tonga had improved its ranking by six places to 45 out of 180 countries. Their report stated that “independent media outlets have increasingly assumed a watchdog role since the first democratic elections in 2010”.

However, RSF also stated that politicians have not hesitated to sue media outlets, exposing them to the risk of heavy fines and that some journalists “are forced to censor themselves due to the threat of bankruptcy”. RSF highlighted that the re-election of Prime Minister Samiuela 'Akilisi Pōhiva’s party in November 2017 was accompanied by growing tension between the government and journalists. This was particularly so at the state radio and TV broadcaster, the Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC), where two senior editors were sidelined under pressure from the government, as previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor.  According to RSF, in 2018, the government “gained full control over the TBC, suppressing all vestiges of editorial independence”.

Association

Freedom of association is legally recognised and respected in practice in Tonga. Civil society organisations are able to form and operate freely.

Freedom of association is legally recognised and respected in practice in Tonga. Civil society organisations are able to form and operate freely. The process to follow when registering an organisation is relatively straightforward and is governed by the Charitable Trusts Act, the Incorporated Societies Act, and the Cooperative Societies Act. In order to obtain charitable status, the organisation’s activities or aims must be for public purposes, meaning that the benefit must be available to a large part of the community. In addition, it must not be carried out for the benefit or profit of any individual. Human rights defenders in Tonga enjoy an enabling environment.

Peaceful Assembly

Tonga’s Constitution establishes that “All people shall be free to send letters or petitions to the King or Legislative Assembly and to meet and consult concerning matters about which they think it right to petition the King or Legislative Assembly to pass or repeal enactments provided that they meet peaceably without arms and without disorder.”

Tonga’s Constitution establishes that “All people shall be free to send letters or petitions to the King or Legislative Assembly and to meet and consult concerning matters about which they think it right to petition the King or Legislative Assembly to pass or repeal enactments provided that they meet peaceably without arms and without disorder.” In practice, protests are rare in Tonga, but cover a range of issues including opposition to international human rights treaties, the powers of the king and socio-economic issues. Most remain peaceful although there was notable violence during protests which turned into riots in 2006.

Expression

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press, however, a 2003 amendment introduces some restrictions.

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press, however, a 2003 amendment introduces some restrictions. Although activists and journalists are able to express their views freely in Tonga, there have been some cases where the authorities have abused their power to censor the media, through licensing and defamation legislation. In a recent case, the government harassed female journalist Viola Ulakai because she tried to obtain information regarding a controversial reform proposed by the Ministry of Education. Tonga has developed an access to information policy, however final approval of the bill is still pending.