6 Jun 2014

Police brutality 'rife' in Tonga

10:23 pm on 6 June 2014

Two Tongan police officers have been found guilty of manslaughter over the death of a New Zealander, but the Police Commissioner warns police brutality is still rife in the Kingdom.

Kali Fungavaka, a constable with Counties Manukau police in Auckland, died in custody after being beaten by officers in his cell following a night out in the capital Nuku'alofa in August 2012.

Mr Fungavaka had been in Tonga for his grandfather's funeral and was arrested outside a bar. He died in Vaiola Hospital several days later.

Inspector Kelepi Hala'ufia and Constable Salesi Maile strangled Mr Fungavaka before stomping on the father-of-five's head, according to testimony from the Tongan Supreme Court.

Justice Cato delivered his verdict to a full courtroom that included the Fungavaka family at the Supreme Court on Friday. Hala'ufia and Maile were convicted and remanded in custody for sentencing in July.

The judge found a third policeman, Fatai Faletau, guilty of assault, while two other officers were acquitted.

The Police Commissioner in Tonga, New Zealander Grant O'Fee said on Friday there are still substantial complaints about police brutality in the Pacific nation, despite the prosecution of these officers.

"It was only two months after Kali was killed that we had another individual killed ... where another officer was charged with manslaughter."

Mr O'Fee said he gets gets two or three complaints a week about police brutality and theft of prisoners, and bribe-taking is common, but he is committed to a long-term change in police culture.

Tonga's Attorney-General Neil Adsett told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Friday the authorities will now able to negotiate compensation for Mr Fungavaka's family.