3 May 2021

Shock over death of prominent Tongan human rights activist

3:59 pm on 3 May 2021

A 27-year-old man has been arrested in Tonga in connection with the death of a prominent human rights activist.

Polikalepo Kefu was killed on Saturday near his home town in what police are investigating as a homicide.

Polikalepo Kefu

Polikalepo Kefu Photo: Supplied

Kefu was the president of the Tonga Leiti's Association, a long serving activist of the local LGBTQI community and a human rights activist whose work was prominent across the Pacific. He also worked with Tonga's Red Cross and local media.

"Poli, as he has known to many of us, was a selfless humanitarian and a tireless advocate for the rights of those with diverse sexual orientatations, gender identities and gender expressions," the Leiti's Association said in a statement, adding that Kefu was the victim of a violent attack.

"In these dark and troubling times, we are reminded of Poli's light and positive energy, and we encouraged knowing that this is when we are most needed to continue our work," the association said.

RNZ Pacific correspondent Kalafi Moala said Kefu's death had shocked the community.

"There's just a sense of shock and anger at the fact that here is a young man who was doing so much good for the community in Tonga, and not only that he was such a pleasant person, you couldn't imagine that he would be a subject of violence," Moala said.

Tonga police said a man was arrested late on Saturday and remained in police custody awaiting a court appearance. A police spokesperson promised more information on Monday afternoon.

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Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

Ofa Guttenbeil Likiliki of the Women and Children's Crisis Centre said she was working with Kefu only last Friday.

She said his death left a huge hole in Tonga's small human rights movement.

"We've achieved a lot in terms of human rights, but there's still a long way to go, and Poli was one of the very pillars of those activists working very hard to make a life for everybody in Tonga better.

"So losing Poli is a huge loss. Gone too soon. Gone way, way too soon.:"

Kefu's death reverberated across the region, with many on social media paying tribute to a man whose work had touched many lives, and whose infectious smile lit up wherever he was. But also calling for justice.

In a statement, the Pacific Sexual and Gender Diverse Network said: "Poli is known to many of us in the region and globally as one of the passionate, critical, kick-ass, funny and a diehard human rights activist. With his charm and leadership, he touched so many lives and was an inspiration to us all."

"Your death will not be in vain Poli."