Fiji Prison

Investigations are being blocked by authorities into police and prison violence: Whistleblowers at Fiji’s human rights watchdog

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Whistleblowers inside human rights watchdog in Fiji have claimed that investigations into complaints against police and prison officers have been blocked by authorities. The complaints include that of violent assault against an inmate. Whistleblowers claim that the human rights body that is supposed to investigate is not independent of influence by the government. Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission employees, both current and former, have accused that investigators are regularly refused any access to victims of assaults in prison by Fijian authorities. They are also alleging that many violations of human rights by police and prison correction officers are disregarded and are not diligently investigated.

One whistleblower told The Guardian, “In my time with the commission, I sent more than 70 letters to different institutions and around 55 of them were to the corrections and police. From the police, we often did not receive any response at all. From the corrections service, responses were always denial.”

Another whistleblower said that the complaints went up till the director of the watchdog but then ended up nowhere. Director of human rights commission Ashwin Raj denied the allegations and said that the group investigated all the complaints in an “independent and impartial manner.”

The commissions’ figures indicate that among all the complaints made, the ones against correction officer violence and police brutality form the majority. Statistics from three latest reports show widespread human rights violations and abuses within the prison system and police. In 2018 for instance, out of 154 complaints made, 54 were against the correction officers in prison and the police. This included the case of a man who died after being assaulted by police officers outside a nightclub. Reports regarding 2019 have not been made public yet.

An anonymous former employee with the commission said that complaints were “pushed under the rug” by the commission. He was also told that investigating police officers or prison authorities could put the director’s position in jeopardy.

Commander of Fiji Corrections Service Francis Kean, who is also the brother-in-law of prime minister Frank Bainimarama, was the prime focus of an investigation against a case of police brutality in May. Four former prison officers, who have now sought asylum in Australia, alleged that Kean would order the staff routinely to assault inmates. The men have described Kean’s leadership as a “dictatorship.”

International human rights organizations like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch Australia have raised concerns over human rights violations by authorities on the island of Fiji.

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