The Office of the Attorney General published two press releases on March 12 in response to reporting from the Samoa Observer. The press releases threatened the Samoa Observer and said “initial internal assessment suggests that the said documents could only have been obtained by hacking our email systems. Hacking email systems is a criminal offence under Part 18 of the Crimes Act 2013.” The Office of the Attorney General also said a full investigation would be opened into how the documents were obtained by the Samoa Observer, commenting on how “the level of journalism is quite concerning” and “the lack of attention to detail demonstrates the calibre of Samoa Observer’s source … and Samoa Observer’s inability to vet not only their sources but their motives.”
The current Attorney General who is the subject of the Samoa Observer’s questions is Savalenoa Mareva Annandale-Betham, who was previously a partner at the Annadale-Betham law firm which is owned by Savalenoa’s husband. Since early March, the Samoa Observer has released multiple articles questioning potential conflicts of interest relating to the Attorney General’s office engaging the Annadale-Betham law firm to act on behalf of the government. Although the Office of the Attorney General states that the agreement with the law firm was entered into prior to Savalenoa’s appointment, the Samoa Observer suggests there are ongoing finalising matters including the amount of money that the firm would be paid.
The IFJ said: “Questioning a government and its actions is a crucial component of a functioning democracy and critical journalism. The IFJ expresses solidarity with journalists and their sources in Samoa who are being subject to legal threats and investigations that seek to prevent them from reporting on the truth. The IFJ implore the Attorney General to retract the statements made by her office and allow the Samoa Observer to operate without political interference.”