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Police brutality claims

Felix Chaudhary And Repeka Nasiko
Thursday, February 22, 2018

POLICE are investigating claims by nine youths from Waikubukubu Village in Tavua that they were rounded up by police officers and tortured over a period of about seven hours on January 26.

Seven of the nine youths who were interviewed by this newspaper, claimed police questioned and accused them of cultivating marijuana.

They claimed seven of them were taken to a police post where they were allegedly punched, kicked and hit on the head and torso with batons, pieces of timber and sugarcane stalks.

The other two were allegedly taken to isolated spots outside of the village where they were allegedly beaten and tortured. It is alleged one of the men was allegedly raped with a baton in the presence of policemen and other alleged torture victims.

When approached by this newspaper, the alleged rape victim broke down in tears and could not utter a word.

This newspaper sighted medical reports which described injuries attributed to the use of a blunt object.

Lautoka human rights lawyer Aman Ravindra-Singh, who is representing the nine youths, claimed the alleged inhumane manner in which they were treated was an indication that torture was still being used by police to solicit information.

"The method of torture was very brutal and disgusting," he claimed.

"Torture is wrong and torture should not be allowed or be part of the job description of police, military or prison officers.

"One particular youth was stabbed with a police baton that had a sharp nail or screw attached to one end of it," he claimed.

"The medical report confirms the physical injuries all over his arms, body, shin and ankle.

"One youth had his shoes removed while he was handcuffed and he could not put on his shoes after the police finished with him because his feet were so badly swollen.

"There is evidence of sexual assault on one particular youth."

A police officer, he claimed, during the torture which was carried out in front of other police officers and torture victims, took his police baton and tried to rape one of the youths by forcefully trying to insert the baton into the youth.

"This is very shocking, extremely brutal and very alarming.

"But this is not new, this type of torture at the hands of police resulted in the death of Vilikesa Soko in 2014."

Mr Ravindra-Singh said a formal complaint would be lodged with police from his office once he had completed interviews with all the victims.

"What's more alarming is the fact that not one seed or leaf or part of any marijuana plant was found on these nine men but unfortunately, without any evidence, police tortured these men in a very brutal and inhumane manner," he claimed.

Waikubukubu Village headman Peceli Natusoro said he was bitterly disappointed with the conduct of the police officers.

"This is not how they should be treating people," he said.

"What I am most upset about is how they didn't even tell me that they would be taking our men for questioning.

"I had just called a village meeting on that day (last Friday) when I reminded everyone about what would happen to people who went against our laws.

"Our rule was anyone who is dealing with marijuana would be reported to police and will not be allowed to set foot in the village for two years.

"Everyone knew what the law is and I know that the men who were taken did not involve themselves in marijuana cultivation," he claimed. He claimed he was unaware of the men being taken by police officers. "It was only after they returned a few hours later then I came to learn about their arrest."

Sulueti Lawai, mother of two alleged victims - Apenisa Vunitali and Ovini Ratubalavu - said she cried when she saw the injuries on her sons' bodies.

"I've known them all their lives. I know they wouldn't deal with marijuana," she said.

"Ovini said he kept telling them to just kill him because he was in so much pain.

"He kept telling them that he didn't have any marijuana or know anything about marijuana, but they didn't want to listen to him."

Eighty-year-old Suliasi Taraulu said his nephew, Timoci Naisua and three grandsons - Suliasi Taraulu, Alipate Nausogo, Meli Kuli - were taken by the police officers.

He said he couldn't believe the extent the police officers went to when they allegedly assaulted his nephew and grandsons.

Laite Nai, mother of another alleged victim Penisoni Saukilea, claimed the police officers had gone beyond their legal duties by abusing her son.

"They told him they were just going to counsel them when they were loading them into the truck," he said.

"All of them were confused by what was happening because they didn't know why they were being taken in."

She said her son suffered injuries that would affect his ability to work.

Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Itendra Nair said he was aware of the issue and assured the victims that a thorough investigation would be conducted.

"Our internal affairs unit is already investigating two reports lodged at the Tavua Police Station by the victims and as the Commissioner of Police has given his assurances, all complaints made against our officers or services will be thoroughly investigated," he said.

"We are a transparent organisation and if and when an officer has committed a crime, they will be charged as highlighted by the statistics released by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

"Our internal affairs unit conducts the investigations fairly."

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