“Similar to forces across the Pacific, Vanuatu police have a poor track record when it comes to prosecuting assaults on freedoms of speech.”
Rarotonga, Cook Islands Tue, 15 May 2016
Vanuatu police must act on promises to prosecute criminals who assault citizens using their constitutional right to free speech, says PFF, the Pacific Freedom Forum.
“A lack of immediate reaction to the latest assault adds to a long record of police inaction,” says PFF Chair Titi Gabi.
“Similar to forces across the Pacific, Vanuatu police have in the past appeared reluctant to prosecute assaults on freedoms of speech.”
Her comments follow a Port Vila woman being dragged from her office for making a comment in a Facebook group, criticising bus and taxi drivers for being “big headed” and “unprofessional”.
Assailants forced the woman into a bus and drove her to a gathering of other drivers, where she was interrogated about her post, and then beaten.
Vanuatu Helicopters office manager Florence Lengkon went public with the assault, and was photographed by Vanuatu Daily Post, showing a badly swollen eye.
She was among at least 100 other citizens commenting on alleged misconduct by drivers, including violence at the wharf where the woman worked.
Lengkon complained to police but was told that there were no available staff to handle her case, and to fill out a complaint form.
Gabi welcomed promises condemnation of the attack, from the government of Vanuatu, and promises from police to take action, three days after the attack.
Co-Chair Monica Miller says PFF joins the government of Vanuatu in condemning the assault.
“There is a long history of journalists being assaulted in Vanuatu, and they are at least made aware of the potential for danger as part of their job.
“But Ms. Lengkon is an ordinary citizen exercising constitutional rights,” she says.
Miller says the assault highlights the need for Pacific governments to ensure that police understand constitutionally protected human rights, and the need to protect them.
“Governments must take steps to ensure information technology contributes positively towards national development by promoting awareness around the long term benefits of freedoms of speech.”
Fundamental rights under the section 5 (1) of the Vanuatu Constitution include “freedom of expression.”
Previous assaults against free speech have included the bashing of Vanuatu Daily Post publisher Marc Neill Jones, with a minister eventually receiving a fine.
On another occasion, a pregnant reporter, Esther Tinning, was assaulted by a building company owner, angry at a feature she had written.
In an editorial, the Post has called for a public march against violence at the waterfront, including to keep out bus and taxi drivers.