Video showing arrest of Fijian bus driver reignites debate over excessive police use of force | Fiji

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Fijian police have suspended an officer pending an investigation after a video showing what appeared to be excessive use of force against a bus driver during an arrest was widely shared in the Pacific country .

Video appears to show a policeman attempting to remove a handcuffed bus driver from his bus in Labasa on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second-largest island, on Monday.

In the video, which has been shared thousands of times and prompted hundreds of comments condemning the apparent conduct, a policeman is seen shouting and pointing at the bus driver, before the officer passes his hands around the man’s neck and only seemed to bang his head against the seat several times.

Police told local media that an officer had been suspended due to initial findings of an investigation by the Internal Affairs Unit and would be on leave pending an investigation.

They also said the bus driver had been charged with one count of failing to give his name and address and one count of aggravated assault, with allegations that the driver assaulted the police officer in the performance of his duties. The bus driver will appear before the Labasa magistrate’s court on Tuesday. Police did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

In the video, passengers on the bus are heard saying to the officer, “You can’t do that. At one point the policeman turns to a person on the bus saying “I know my job”. Another voice can be heard on the video telling the bus driver: “Excuse me, I’m an MP. You can not do that.”

National Federation Party MP Lenora Qereqeretabua identified herself as the MP in the video. She posted an account of the incident on her Twitter page, saying she was traveling to Savusavu – one hour and twenty minutes from Labasa – when she “witnessed a commotion”.

“I decided to intervene and got on the bus saying to the policeman: ‘Excuse me, you can’t do that, what did he do? What is your [regimental] Number? You can deal with it without violence,” Qereqeretabua posted on Twitter.

Screen capture from a video uploaded to Facebook, which shows a police officer arresting a bus driver in Fiji. Photography: Facebook

“The poor driver said the officer had his hand on his neck and the protesting passengers supported the driver. All the while the officer was pulling on the driver’s arm.

According to Qereqeretabua, the driver left with the officer and she called the owner of the bus company to inform him of what had happened.

“Non-violent conflict resolution is something we all need to learn in school,” she said, adding that “those in law enforcement need to learn that there is always a calm way to address a problem without making it worse.

She says she “will be a witness if necessary”.

The Fiji Bus Operators Association (FBOA) has condemned the incident and is calling on Fiji Police leaders to “take appropriate action” against the officer.

Zane Dean, acting president of the FBOA, said the incident “demonstrates a lack of understanding by some police officers about their role and the limits of their powers.”

Last month, Sitiveni Qiliho, the police commissioner, announced that a human rights division would be created within the police to investigate human rights complaints filed by its officers.

Cases of police brutality are not uncommon in Fiji. Figures from Fiji’s Director of Public Prosecutions obtained by the Guardian at the end of 2020 show that 400 serious assault charges were brought against police officers between May 2015 and April 2020.

Last year, Rusiate Tudravu, a former acting police commissioner, told FBC he had received numerous complaints of alleged police brutality, leading to a loss of public confidence in the police.

Fiji will go to the polls this year and Sitiveni Rabuka, a former prime minister and military general, and now leader of the People’s Alliance Party, is challenging incumbent Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama for the top job. Rabuka said reforming the police force would be one of his priorities if he won.

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