Tonga legislators reject death penalty proposal

By and is republished with permission

A public debate in Parliament this week rejected a suggestion that the death penalty be used to deter drug offenders.Tonga's Legislative Assembly at its temporary location in the Tongan National Cultural CentreTonga’s Legislative Assembly at its temporary location in the Tongan National Cultural Centre Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Tonga has been combatting a growing drug problem for the past several years, leading to the Speaker of Parliament, Lord Fakafanua, calling for a debate on the topic, ‘Capital punishment is the best deterrent for illicit drugs offences.’

But the debaters voted 38 to 8 against the proposal.

RNZ Pacific’s Tonga correspondent Kalafi Moala said the death penalty remains on the law books in Tonga, but has not been applied for more than 40 years.

He said many in the community feel there are alternatives when trying to deal with the drug problem.

“They feel that in dealing with the drugs situation they have many other things that can be a solution rather than trying to bring in capital punishment as a deterrent,” he said.

“For example there is now someone who is serving a life sentence for drugs in Hu’atolitoli Prison, so there was a call ‘why bring back capital punishment if the extreme things happen.”

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark said on X (formerly Twitter): “Death penalty cannot be justified in any circumstances.”

Capital Punishment Justice Project (formerly Reprieve Australia) also raised concern that the Tongan Parliament was debating on the topic, saying “even contemplating [death penalty] is a regressive step for a de facto abolitionist state”.

Moala said the last use of capital punishment in Tonga was in 1982 when three people were hanged for murder.

This is not the first time that capital punished has been suggested as a drug deterrent in the Kingdom.

In 2004, the Tongan Legislative Assembly, prior to the country becoming more democratic, had voted narrowly, 10-7, against a proposal to use it for possession of illicit drugs.

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