18 May 2020

Police brutality a 'leadership matter', says Fiji MP

5:11 pm on 18 May 2020

A Fiji opposition parliamentarian says the government must show responsibility over a recent spate of allegations of police brutality in the country.

This comes after the National Federation Party president Pio Tikoduadua said he was taking legal action against the police over his 36-hour detainment in Suva last month.

Pio Tikoduadua

Pio Tikoduadua Photo: CC BY-SA 4.0

He had been taken in by police over a video he posted on Facebook outlining alleged police brutality in an incident in Tailevu in which a villager claimed he was thrown off a bridge and then assaulted by police.

Nine police officers have been suspended pending investigations into the incident. Three other officers are being investigated for alleged assaults not related to the bridge incident.

Last week, the Public Prosecutor found there was insufficient evidence to charge Mr Tikoduadua after police claimed he had made "statements causing public alarm".

The NFP president said police "repeatedly delayed" his interview, and there was no reason for his detainment after he was arrested on 21 April.

Mr Tikoduadua said while police could hold suspects for up to 48 hours before bring them to court, "they couldn't detain people without a good reason".

"This was simply police exercising their own form of punishment. That is not their job. They must exercise their judgement properly about any decision to detain a suspect.

"In the video, I had called upon the police commissioner, the prime minister and the minister for defence to ensure the force is not rogue," the MP said.

He said he had instructed his lawyers to take legal action against the police because "my rights have been breached through the process of my being arrested and questioned".

No caption.

Photo: RNZ Pacific/Koroi Hawkins

Leadership questioned

Mr Tikoduadua said he wanted police held accountable for their actions.

He said complaints about police actions taken outside the law had become a major concern, describing it as a "matter of leadership".

"It rests squarely on the leadership of the police to ensure that in order to instil confidence of the public, they first must follow the law themselves when upholding the law."

Mr Tikoduadua said there was a ministry responsible for the police force, a "ministry of the government so everyone up the chain of command in a way becomes responsible for the actions of the police officers on the ground".

He said anyone who had some leadership, command or control over the police should ensure "police officers were educated both in knowledge, skill and attitude to uphold the law when discharging their duties.

"The fact that they are in uniform and they are police, that they are not the law unto themselves."

Police welfare

Mr Tikoduadua said he felt for police officers working in the frontline of law enforcement who "do not understand the extent of the ambits in which they should be carrying out their work".

He said if officers were educated and counselled on their duties, there would be less incidence of allegations of police brutality.

"I am calling on the authorities to ensure the welfare of police officers in particular in training and education. That would be the key thing for them to do."

"I may not know what exactly police officers undergo in their training but as a former military officer I was a trainer.

"However, the basic recruit course does not teach you everything about becoming a soldier. Neither does a basic recruitment teach a policeman everything about policing.

Mr Tikoduadua said that throughout their career police needed to be upskilled and continuously mentored.

"It's the best welfare the authorities can give these officers."

Police attitude

Mr Tikoduadua said his daughter is a police officer and he stressed to her the importance of following the law, to uphold the law.

"You cannot break the law to uphold the law. It's very simple," he explained, describing it as "a matter of attitude".

"Complaints against the police force are almost an everyday thing now. The public should have confidence in the police instead people live in fear of them. But let's look at the real cause of the problem.

"Police officers should be trained properly so that they are knowledgeable, skilled and professional enough to conduct their duties within the confines of the law that constrains them and restricts them in the way that they can carry out their jobs.

"And when they do that, it reflects highly on their leadership," the NFP president said.

Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho and Minister for Defence, Inia Seruiratu, did not respond to a request for comment.