17 Jun 2020

Fiji police minister urges officers to operate within law

3:57 pm on 17 June 2020

Police officers in Fiji have been urged to operate within the laws of the country and maintain professionalism in their line of work.

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Photo: RNZ Pacific/Koroi Hawkins

This week, police came under fire over its conduct in handling student and staff protests at the University of the South Pacific where staff were questioned for alleged breach of Covid-19 restrictions.

Speaking to officers in the northern division, Defence Minister Inia Seruiratu said police were faced with huge challenges in maintaining law and order but that should not be an excuse to tarnish the image of the force.

"While we were getting heaps of praises from most of the community, these isolated incidents of abuses and assaults - these are the ones that (tarnish) us.

"That calls for good leadership, strong leadership," he said.

Mr Seruiratu said senior officers must set the standard and the pace for the police workforce.

Hundreds of students, staff and faculty had protested the suspension of Vice-Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia by the executive committee of the USP Council.

The University of the South Pacific Students' Association said it was concerned about the presence of police during the protests at the USP's Laucala campus in Suva.

In a statement, the association claimed police were doing some "undercover work".

It said there was major concern at Laucala about the presence of police on campus.

The association said staff and students had questioned the presence when the university had a competent security team.

"Covid-19 cannot be the cover for 'undercover work'," it said. "USP security is tasked with student, staff and property safety and has informed police of this and as per USP regulations, will be called if needed."

"There is no criminal activity to justify this. Clearly, this approval is not to protect the students and staff but to intimidate. We have not and will not be intimidated."

Police spokeswoman Ana Naisoro said police had been present at the university "since day one" of the protests as a "proactive measure".

Ms Naisoro told the Fiji Times that general safety and ensuring matters were handled according to the law.

Public support for the police had been at an all-time low with recent reports of police brutality and intimidation surfacing across the country.

Inia Seruiratu said his ministry would continue to monitor the conduct of the force.

 Inia Seruiratu.

Minister Inia Seruiratu Photo: Alex Perrottet / RNZ