PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On June 16th, 2022, five Pohnpei State Government Officials, including the Acting Governor, and the Chair of the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force, were arrested and criminally charged before the FSM Supreme Court in connection with over two-hundred counts of criminal violations involving breaches of civil rights considered as a felony under national law, false imprisonment, multiple violations of emergency decrees and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for COVID-19 quarantine, and the intentional disabling of the Medical Monitoring Area (MMA)
quarantine facility in Dekehtik during the June 12th repatriation flight from Guam.
The June 12th repatriation flight into Pohnpei (which departed Guam on June 11th but arrived in Pohnpei on June 12th) brought a total of seventy-one passengers, seventy of whom were assigned to the Emergency Medical Unit (EMU) for their in-country quarantine. The EMU has a total of twenty-six rooms which, according to the submitted documents’ arguments, were insufficient to quarantine the seventy arriving passengers that resulted in an unacceptable overcrowding of the lobby and hallway of the EMU, forcing travelers to sleep on the floor and with no provisions for clean water, beddings, bedsheets, and pillows. The FSM National Government suggests in its filings that there were no adequate bathroom facilities under these conditions, and no social/physical distancing observed; by extension, the Government argues that there was no quarantine in the sense of the COVID-19 Protocols required under the circumstances.
The FSM National Government argues in its submitted documents that Pohnpei State Government previously announced its readiness in anticipation of the June 12th repatriation flight, and that the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force had instructed relevant parties to not prepare the second quarantine facility, the MMA, in advance of the repatriation flight. Hence, no cleanup and disinfection processes were conducted, even though the MMA quarantine manager was allegedly ready and willing to do so. In effect, the disabling of the MMA quarantine facility disrupted and obstructed the quarantine process that—for the arriving passengers—had started in Guam for a period of three days prior to their repatriation flight. The EMU was insufficient to safely accommodate all the seventy passengers assigned to it. According to information, the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force advised that it required four days to clean the MMA, although the FSM National Government medical team that cleaned the MMA site required less than 24 hours to accomplish this task. The Pohnpei State Government did not clean or prepare the MMA quarantine site prior to the arrival of the flight, and maintained this position until after the flight arrived, when the FSM National Government took the initiative to offer assistance to clean and disinfect the facility, at the point in time when passengers were overcrowding the lobby of the EMU facility.
Almost all of the travelers from a previous repatriation flight in May were released several days prior, on June 7th, and as such the FSM National Government believes that the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force could have initiated all the necessary cleaning and disinfecting procedures for the vacated MMA rooms prior to the June 12th repatriation flight, but the State Task Force allegedly decided and instructed against this. The FSM National Government maintains that this deprives travelers of their right to a proper, and by extension safe, quarantine. This is described in a letter from the Secretary of the Department of Health & Social Affairs, the Honorable Marcus Samo, to the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force, which can be found here: https://gov.fm/files/Letter_to_Chair_of_PNI_TF-_June_16_2022.pdf
The criminal charges filed against the Acting Governor of Pohnpei State, the Honorable Christina Elnei, the Chair of the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force, Ms. Norleen Oliver-DeOrio, the Director of Public Safety, the Honorable Patrick Carl, the Pohnpei State Public Information Officer, Mr. Patrick Pedrus, and the Commissioner for the Pohnpei Public Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Peterson Sam, are pending before the FSM Supreme Court.
The criminal charges were for alleged violations of Section 701 of Title 11 of the FSM Code for the unnecessary extended quarantine from five days to seven days, with no fault on the part of the passengers; violation of civil right consisting of not providing safe quarantine under the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures and protocols causing overcrowding and people sleeping on the unsanitary common areas of the EMU; obstruction of official discharge of duties, on the part of the Chair of the Task Force, for giving instruction not to prepare and clean up the MMA for the repatriation flight; and the “conspiracy” on the part of the defendants, having acted in concert with each other, in carrying out uncooperative and obstructive behaviors and violations, including malicious misinformation to the public through social media. An example of the latter may include a letter from the Acting Governor that was posted online, but the President’s explanation in addressing the issues in that letter were otherwise hidden from the public, resulting in a serious imbalance of information critical for public knowledge and consumption, and potentially misleading social media posting. Another potential example could include the assertion by Pohnpei State officials on social media that the FSM National Government refused to delay or postpone the June 12th repatriation flight, which allegedly resulted in the overcrowding of the EMU; this information is misleading on the premise that, at the time the request was made, the boarding process for the flight had already begun, and the passengers had already completed a strict pre-quarantine requirement in the U.S. Territory of Guam.
The FSM National Police detained and interrogated the defendants. By law, the National Police is required to file criminal charges against the defendants within 24 hours, otherwise, the National Police is under duty to release them. The defendants were detained on the evening of June 16th, and criminal charges were filed against them on the following day, well within the deadline set by law. Upon representations by Acting Attorney General Judah Johnny, out of courtesy, Acting Governor Christina Elnei and Director of Public Safety Patrick Carl were released on the evening of June 16th on the condition and mutual understanding that they will abide and respect the court processes. All defendants are required to come to the FSM Supreme Court for their initial appearance on Monday. It is the prevailing rule in the FSM that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty of the criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt, and this rule should continue to be followed by readers of this Press Release.
The penalty for civil rights violation under Section 701 of Title 11 of the FSM Code is imprisonment for not more than 10 years, and a possible civil liability to the injured persons. The penalty for obstruction under Section 501 is imprisonment for not more than one year, whereas the penalty for conspiracy is not more than half of the maximum sentence provided for the most serious crime which was the object of the conspiracy.
The initial appearance of all defendants is scheduled for Monday at 3:00pm. The FSM Supreme Court has ordered all defendants to be released as they await their initial appearance.
The FSM National Government is working hard to ensure that the Nation’s citizens are safe during the COVID-19 Pandemic, most especially to include during the repatriation process. It is the intention of the FSM National Government, in line with the Congressional Act passed by the 22nd FSM Congress awaiting the President’s signature, to fully open its borders on August 1st, 2022, inclusive of a removal of quarantines both within and outside of the Nation.
On July 29th, 2021, the FSM National Government imposed a vaccination mandate for all FSM citizens residing in the FSM. As of June 2022, the FSM’s vaccination rate for all persons aged 5 years and above is 71%. The FSM’s vaccination rate for persons aged 18 years and above is 79%. The FSM’s vaccination rate for persons aged 45 and above is 100.1% (and the discrepancy is attributed to the Nation’s vaccination rate being based on the most recent Census data). “We have approximately six weeks or a month and a half prior to the opening of our borders,” President Panuelo said in a statement, “I have been vaccinated and boosted twice; the vaccine is safe and highly effective at its mission of preventing severe disease and death. I strongly encourage all FSM citizens to get their vaccinations and booster doses at the nearest opportunity, because the vaccine is ultimately the difference between a person treating COVID-19 as if it is a minor flu versus treating COVID-19 as if it is a serious terminal disease. It has been two and a half years since our Nation closed its borders. I have done everything I can to keep this country safe during this Pandemic since January 31st, 2020. I cannot keep our borders closed any longer. We must return to normalcy. The only way to do that safely is if you get vaccinated. The choice is yours—but please make it the right one, and get vaccinated, and get boosted, today.”
“Your National Government is committed towards ensuring we maintain the safety and health of the public during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” President Panuelo continued. “I strongly encourage our State Governments to have trust and confidence in the FSM National Government, the FSM COVID-19 Task Force, and all National Government officials charged with the duty of implementing the COVID-19 protocols and guidelines, in accordance with the Congressional Resolution passed by the 22nd FSM Congress. I urge the State Governments to have a genuine and constructive deliberation and discussion with the National Task Force towards having uniform and unified protocols across the Nation, instead of being destructive, being divisive, and being a needlessly dramatic faultfinder seeking political points and gain at the expense of our Nation’s unity, and our Nation’s health.”
The June 9th emergency SOP can be found here: https://gov.fm/files/SOP_June_9_Signed.pdf