5 Dec 2006

Tonga to introduce diversion scheme for young offenders after claims of abuse

2:36 pm on 5 December 2006

The Tonga government is introducing a diversion scheme for youths in the wake of a damning report alleging suspects were tortured and abused following the Nuku'alofa riot last month.

Angus McLean - a volunteer with the National Centre for Women and Children, alleges in the report that suspects suffered violence at the hands of the Tonga Defence Services and the police.

Mr Mclean also alleges in the report that up to 40 children were held in overcrowded prison cells and suffered the same type of physical abuse as adult suspects.

The Attorney General, 'Alisi Taumoepeau, says investigations so far show there were only eight youths aged 17 and under held in custody, and they were detained separately from the adults.

Ms Taumoepeau, who is also the Justice Minisiter, says the report lacks specific detail.

"We've only heard one side of the story, we are looking into it and we are putting in place a youth justice system that's going to deal with people 17 years and under. And we're talking about eight people in custody."

Meanwhile the centre has distanced itself from the report, which was released anonymously by a volunteer at the organisation last week.

The co-ordinator of the centre, Lavinia Palei, told Radio Tonga that the report was released without the approval of the board.