Friday, 20 February 2009 6:28 AM

Fiji Police Commissioner's Comments Deemed Racist

The comments made by Fiji's Police Commissioner to some members of the country's police force has caused outrage with many labeling them racist and calling for the Commissioner to step down.

The incident began when the Commissioner called a meeting with his senior Indo-Fijian officers at Nasova Police Academy in Suva on Tuesday morning and issued an ultimatum to them to support him or get out of the force.

According to a report by Fijilive, is understood that negative media reports about the police Christian crusade against crime had prompted Commodore Teleni's lecture.
The police force had been holding in Christian crusades for the purpose of fighting crime in the country.

According to local media reports in Fiji, the meeting was caught by the country's television station, Fiji TV.
Although Fiji TV was not allowed into the premises, their camera and high powered microphone managed to record Teleni's speech from a distance.

According to Fijilive, the television footage showed Mr. Teleni saying, "If you are with me, you stay, if not you get out".

"If you get through that door, get out of the organisation. Kemudou tamata liu muri (you people are not loyal). I don't know what's wrong with you people."

According to the report, the footage showed Commodore Teleni saying that he never forced the Indo-Fijain officers to come to the Police crusade but that he only encouraged them and he warned his officers against taking their grievances to the media, suggesting that he had names and threatened that heads could roll.

"Either you come with me and take this organisation forward or you get out," he said.

"Only lamulamu people (cowards) will go to the press. That will not solve the problem. I have a list of people. I'm going to start terminating their services. I am not hesitant to do that.

"I can sack everyone here sitting here today and I can recruit another 200 Indian officers today. I have no problems to do that. Fiji TV, Fiji Sun, Fiji Times will not help you. Let me remind you that any other Indian officers will not help you. Commissioner will help you."

According to Fiji Times Online, the Commissioner's parting words to those present at the meeting was, "You've never seen my ... my other side."

The following day, the country's Interim Defence Minister, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, stated that he would meet with Police Commissioner Esala Teleni over his threat to sack Indo-Fijian police officers if they continued to oppose his Christian crusade.

According to Fiji Times Online, Ratu Epeli said the comments made by Mr. Teleni were very serious and that he would be meeting with him and then he could say what action would be taken.
Mr. Teleni's threats were published in major newspapers around the country.

However, Fiji's interim Prime Minister and military leader, Commodore Bainimarama, has expressed his support for the Police Chief saying that if he was in the Commissioner's shoes, he would do the same thing, stressing that there was no place in the force for disloyal officers.

According to Fijilive, Commodore Bainimarama 'has told Teleni to find the culprits and boot them'.
He stated that it's about unity and that Commissioner Teleni is not a racist but was only doing his job.

Meanwhile, from other sectors of the country, there have been calls for the Commissioner to step down.
According to Fiji Times Online, Fiji Womens Crisis Centre deputy co-ordinator, Edwina Kotoisuva, said Mr. Teleni's outburst showed his racist attitude.

"This type of attack on a particular ethnic group within an organisation is blatant racism and this should not be tolerated," she said.
"It is irrelevant whether some of the senior police officers spoke out against the crusade, someone in his position should not be allowed to make targeted threats at a particular ethnic group within the organization."

The Movement for Democracy in Fiji also called for Mr. Teleni's dismissal with chairman, Attar Singh, saying that Mr. Teleni brought disrepute to the Police Force and must be made to step down.

One of the country's major political parties, the Fiji Labour Party, also spoke out with leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, who had been the interim government's Finance Minister, saying that the party was disturbed by Commissioner Teleni's statement against Indo-Fijian police officers and that 'while the intentions behind the spiritual crusade might be well meaning, it should not be allowed to encroach on individual constitutional rights'.

National Federation Party secretary, Pramod Rae, said that Commissioner Teleni's 'speech to Indo-Fijian officers is the worst case of racial bigotry in the last 20 years' and that Mr. Teleni's 'racial assault was of the same magnitude as that of the torching of four Indian places of worship at Lautoka in October 1989'.
Fiji's Non-Government Organisation Coalition on Human Rights has called for the immediate suspension of the military-appointed Police Commissioner with the coalition chairperson, Virisila Buadromo, saying in a statement that Mr. Teleni's comments 'violated the freedom of religion and freedom of expression of the officers'.

Also, according to Fiji Times Online, the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC) has also called on Police Commissioner Esala Teleni to step down 'because he does not have the competence to hold the high office' with PCRC campaigner, Ema Tagicakibau, reminding the interim Government that 'loyalty was earned through mutual trust and respect and could not be won through force, intimidation and fear tactics'.

Mr. Teleni is an officer of the Fiji Navy and was appointed to the post of Police Commissioner by military leader Commodore Bainimarama following the coup of 2006, having been a staunch ally of Bainimarama through the stand-off between the military and the deposed Qarase government which led to the coup.

The incident has generated so much outrage and shock because the country has long had problems between its two major ethnic groups, the indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijians and the early coups of 1987 saw the Indo-Fijians being subjected to violence.
However, the country has been able to heal and move forward and the two ethnic groups have been seen to be living in harmony but any action or comment deemed to be racist is often met with outrage from all sectors of society as it is seen as a step backwards.

As the Citizens' Constitutional Forum (CCF)'s Reverend Akuila Yabaki said in the report by Fijilive, 'Teleni should resign immediately as his directives to Indo-Fijian police officers undermines their basic human rights to equality, and freedom of religion and belief'.

"Freedom of Religion and Belief is a core human rights entitlement, which intends to achieve peace and harmony in the world through religious tolerance," he said, adding that this kind of rhetoric can destroy the multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition of the Police Force.

Meanwhile, yesterday's media reports from Fiji state that the police have seized the footage of Mr. Teleni's speech taken by Fiji TV.