Santo woman speaks-out on alleged police brutality

A victim of alleged police brutality this week on Santo, has spoken-out on the violence she says she encountered.

Maria Jerry, a mother from Valui Station in Big Bay Bush, alleges she was kicked and beaten by one of the police officers who had gone to Big Bay Bush to investigate reports of a disturbance.

“On Friday 19 June, when I was at my house scraping the coconut to make coconut milk for my kids’ food for breakfast, a police officer came to my house,” she said.

“He asked me questions and when I said I didn’t know anything, he took the dish with the scraped coconut in it and poured it on my head. Then he slammed it on my head.

“He asked for information … [on the suspects he was looking for], and when I said I didn’t know where they were, he slapped me. When I came outside, he kicked me with his shoes and beat me with a baton.”

Ms Jerry alleges she witnessed four police officers burning down her house and three other houses.

“They burnt down four natangura [thatch] houses. I stood there watching them. Then, they shot a gun towards the burnt houses. While the houses were on fire, they stood by their truck and were making fun.”

She says she tried to report the alleged police violence at the Luganville Police Station but they did not allow her to do so.

VBTC has sought a response to the allegations from the Vanuatu Police Force and the Sanma Police Patrol says it is investigating the case.

Last week, the Parliament amended the Police Act so that police officers found to have committed intentional assault while on duty will be dismissed from the force.

The amendment states a person alleging police assault must lodge a written complaint. The police then have 21 days before a decision must be made on whether the accused police will be dismissed from the force.

Earlier, a pastor made allegations that police officers had assaulted him in the same incident.

Ms Jerry has eight children, with the youngest five-years-old, and she’s a guardian to four other children who stay with her.

She also alleges police took away kava roots that she had been drying to pay for school fees.

She says after the incident, she took her children to shelter with a relative and is now at the Luganville Baptist Church with her children and 49 other villagers who also lost their homes during the incident.

Ms Jerry says the church is providing shelter and food.

She told VBTC, “All my children are attending school, but their books, pens and uniforms have all been burnt and they have not been able to attend school since the incident.”

Vanuatu’s Education Director General, Bergmans Iati, says the Government will assist children affected by the incident by replacing damaged learning resources.

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