Critics accuse Fiji police of harassing USP staff in ‘solidarity’ probe

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Police USP probe
Police questioning USP's chief librarian, Elizabeth Reade-Fong (back to camera), yesterday in what critics describe as intimidation in a campus inquiry. Image: FBC News screenshot/PMC

By Wansolwara staff 

Critics have condemned Fiji police harassment and intimidation for summoning two staff members at the University of the South Pacific’s Laucala campus to the Fiji police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Suva yesterday for questioning.

According to FBC News, police have launched an investigation into the public gathering of USP staff and students.

Police Commissioner Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho said they were looking at possible breaches of covid-19 restrictions.

READ MORE: Special reports on the USP leadership crisis

Fiji police officers were also monitoring “solidarity” movements at USP’s Laucala campus over the past week where concerned staff and students had shown their support for suspended vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia, holding placards calling for good governance, accountability and transparency.

USP’s acting vice-chancellor, Professor Derrick Armstrong, said the university was made aware of an incident where a staff person was approached by Fiji police for questioning.

He said the university sought an urgent appointment with the Commissioner of Police for further clarification.

USP librarian Elizabeth Reade Fong and USP Staff Union general secretary Ilima Finiasi were questioned by CID.

Standing in solidarity
Fong clarified in media reports that staff and students were not protesting but were standing in solidarity and support for the suspended vice-chancellor.

Elizabeth Reade-Fong
USP librarian Elizabeth Reade Fong … questioned by police over USP “protests”. Image: Fiji Village

The questioning of USP staff members had garnered reactions from the public, including the opposition National Federation Party.

NFP president Pio Tikoduadua claimed the questioning of USP staff by police was a prelude to many others being questioned under the pretext of covid-19 regulations and Public Order Act after their massive show of support for Professor Ahluwalia.

“We deplore police for using covid-19 social distancing restrictions to harass and intimidate USP staff and students.

This is ridiculous and nonsense when no social distancing is being practised in supermarkets, municipal markets, buses and other public transport, restaurants, malls and on the streets,” he said in a statement.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress also issued a statement, urging the USP Council to expeditiously address the concerns of the USP Students Association and ensure that the students were protected.

FTUC national secretary Felix Anthony said the USPSA had every right to raise concerns and protest peacefully.

He said the Public Order Act or the covid-19 restrictions must not be used to deny fundamental rights.

As USP is a regional education institution, police traditionally do not normally have a right to go onto the Laucala campus without university authorisation.

Wansolwara is the USP journalism programme’s newspaper and website and is a partner of the Pacific Media Centre.

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