National Farmers Union president Surendra Lal was arrested at his home around 6pm Monday and held in custody at the Labasa Police Station all last night. As far as we know he is still in custody.
He was not allowed any contact with anyone including his wife, family or union officials except for a brief call they let him make to his family this morning.
At the time of his arrest, Police told Mr Lal that he was being taken in for alleged incitement of cane growers and that they were acting on orders from above.
“Let me warn the authorities that such dirty tactics will not deter the NFU from standing by the farmers and upholding their rights.
“The Police are supposed to be law enforcement officers. What hope can there be for the people if the police themselves act unlawfully to arrest and detain union officials as a form of harassment at the instigation of the government?” Mr Chaudhry said.
“The Police must act as an independent institution to maintain law and order and not allow itself to be used to serve government’s agenda,” he said.
“Worse still, we denounce their tactic to arrest people in the evening and hold them overnight on the pretext of questioning them. Why can’t the people be taken in for questioning during the day and released before nightfall? As I have said before it is nothing but abuse of Police powers and a means of intimidating both union officials and the growers.”
Mr Lal’s arrest comes at a time when growers are protesting low 4th cane payment and a very low forecast price. They are also resisting the imposition of unreasonable cane cartage weight restrictions for lorries which will add significantly to their transport costs.
The Labasa Mill which was earlier scheduled to begin crushing on 6th June has hardly been able to operate because of low cane supply as many growers are not harvesting. They want their grievances properly addressed and resolved.
A similar situation is faced by the Lautoka Mill which began operating on a stop/start basis last week.