Fiji Labour Party strongly denounces the strong arm tactics used by the Police in arresting and holding overnight unionists and workers involved in the WAF industrial dispute.
“This is nothing but intimidation of workers and unions and a denial of their right to engage in peaceful protest,” says former Prime Minister and Labour Party Leader Mahendra Chaudhry.
“What we saw yesterday was an outright abuse of police power and authority.
” There was absolutely no breach of the peace. No law was broken. If anything, it was the Police that may have broken the law by arresting people from within the precincts of a private property in Lautoka,” he said.
An industrial dispute exists between WAF workers and its management. There is a machinery in place under the Employment Relations Act to deal with such matters.”
Mr Chaudhry questioned the statement by Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho that Police were there to maintain law and order and “would not allow unscrupulous elements to disrupt the water supply or operations of WAF by union activists”.
“We hold the Police Commissioner answerable for the arbitrary actions of his Police officers yesterday against the workers and unionists. There was no attempt to disrupt water supply or interfere with the operations of WUF. None of them had broken the law as no one was charged.
The arrests yesterday and the overnight detentions without charges being laid and the interrogation of Fijian Teachers Association executives last week are a clear indication that Fiji is becoming a Police State. The police should not engage in scare tactics against workers and critics of the government at the instigation of the authorities,” said Mr Chaudhry.
In fact, most of those detained overnight have been released without charges laid against them. This shows that the arrests were merely bullying tactics.
Labour strongly condemns what has become a common practice with the Police here to detain government critics – trade unionists and Opposition politicians – overnight on the pretext of questioning them.
Similar tactics are also employed against journalists both local and overseas who may be seen to be investigating issues which may prove embarrassing to the government ie the recent case of New Zealand journalists.