4 Mar 2015

Tensions high on Nauru amid mass arrests

8:36 pm on 4 March 2015

Refugees are continuing to protest on Nauru, despite the arrest of 40 refugees yesterday and the introduction of heavy-handed limits on public gatherings by authorities.

Refugees held in Nauru

Refugees held in Nauru Photo: supplied

A local photographer on Nauru, Clint Deidenang, said about 50 protesters have been sitting on the road near the civic centre chanting for the release of the refugees who were arrested yesterday.

Mr Deidenang said police have had to keep the protesters separate from angry locals who also gathered.

He said tensions were high on the island with a significant minority of the population opposed to the resetlement of Australia's asylum seekers on Nauru.

Under the deal signed between Nauru and Canberra, those asylum seekers deemed to be refugees will be temporarily resettled on Nauru before a permanent solution is found.

Mr Deidenang said some were not happy with that arrangement, and that showed today.

"The locals are angry with these protests that have been going on. They don't like what's happening in their country. Nauru's a pretty small country and now they see these people coming from abroad and creating chaos in their country."

Mr Deidenang said police were trying to negotiate with the protesters.

New restrictions on public gathering

The 40 refugees arrested yesterday are being held in the Yaren police station on Nauru, and a video from the cell shows them chanting for their freedom.

It's not known when those arrested will face court.

The protests and arrest come a day after the government introduced new restrictions on public gathering in an effort to stop the protests.

A notice distributed on Tuesday said groups of three or more that did not disperse within 15 minutes could be arrested and face charges carrying penalties of up to three years in jail.

The government said while the majority of the 500 refugees on the island did not wish to participate in these protests, a small group of troublemakers were attempting to incite others.

It has again said the protestors are backed and encouraged by refugee advocates from Australia.

Dispute over arrest numbers

The Refugee Action Coalition said earlier that about 150 people were arrested, including a 13-year-old who was being considered to be a protest leader.

The government said police have attempted to provide the refugees with guidelines for a peaceful protest.

There have been a series of protests since last week about what the refugees say are the slave-like conditions they live in and the animosity of many Nauruans towards them.

Nauru's president Baron Waqa said his government was sensitive to their grievances but it would not tolerate violence.

In a statement, the government said the protestors threw stones, injured three policemen and damaged a police vehicle.

But the Australian based Refugee Action Coalition's Ian Rintoul said that was not true.

"We have got photos and we have got footage of both protests. The only violence came from the police last Friday where without any provocation at all they started punching people and knocking people to the ground, so the only violence that is in evidence anywhere is that that's being perpetrated by police in an attempt to stop people peacefully marching down the road."

Video of protesters in jail