Honiara court jails high school student, 18, for ‘lockdown’ breach

Solomon Islands Police Response Team (PRT)
Solomon Islands' Police Response Team (PRT) on patrol during the first night of the country's trial lockdown last Sunday. Image: RNZ/Royal Solomon Islands Police Force

By Assumpta Buchanan in Honiara

A high school student is one of three people — including his two brothers — who has been sentenced to 12 months in prison for breaching a Solomon Islands trial covid-19 lockdown late last month.

The 18-year-old was sentenced by a magistrates court on Wednesday with his older brothers after pleading guilty to one count of restriction of movement contrary to clause 4 (1) and (2) (a) and (b) of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Honiara Emergency Zone) (Restriction of Movement) Order 2021 and Regulation 15 (1) (a), (2) and (4) of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (No. 2) Regulation 2021.

The court heard police had arrested the student and two other young men after attending a report of disturbances in the early hours of Monday, August 30, at Vavaya Ridge.

Police went to Vavaya Ridge at 2.45am and saw the three defendants on the main road main road.

Their lawyer, Donation Houa, from the Public Solicitor’s Office had told the court the student was drinking with his two brothers at his brother’s house before the lockdown exercise started at 6pm on Sunday, August 29.

“On his return home round 2am from his brother’s house, he was arrested,” Houa told the court.

He had asked the court to consider section 35 of the Penal Code (PC) to impose an unconditional discharge given that he was a student and that doing so would affect his education and future prospects.

‘I will not accept excuses’
However, principal magistrate Augustine Aulanga did not consider section 35 of the Penal Code when imposing the sentence.

“I will not accept those kinds of excuses,” he said.

“You are a student, you drink alcohol and then you commit an offence and then you plead to the court for mercy — I will not accept that,” Aulanga told the student.

In relation to the second defendant, the court heard that the 25-year-old was out looking for cigarettes when he was arrested.

“The reason why he was arrested was that he was away from his home looking for cigarettes,” Houa told the court.

The third defendant went out to the main road from his residence after hearing some boys drinking and they gave him alcohol.

“He took a sip and that’s when police arrived and arrested him,” Houa said, when he explained in court why his client was not home at the time of the offence.

Prosecution wanted a fine
The lawyer also asked the court to consider when imposing sentence that there was no community transmission and that this was an exercise lockdown.

The prosecution had asked court to impose a fine of $300 or a term of imprisonment term equivalent to $300 if the defendants could not pay the fine.

Crown Prosecutor Geitaba Waletofea asked court to consider the fact that the three young men deliberately breached the movement restrictions despite knowing about the lockdown.

She said the men decided to ignore the law and continue to cause a disturbance.

Waletofea also added that although she understood that the virus was not yet in the Solomon Islands, the government had seen fit to impose such laws to help prepare foer the virus, and to know how to contain it in the future.

Magistrate Aulanga imposed a 12 month imprisonment term for each defendant.

The three defendants were among 32 people arrested during the 36 hour lockdown exercise from 6am, Sunday, August 29, to 6pm, Tuesday, August 31.

Assumpta Buchanan is a Solomon Star reporter.

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