NIGHTMARE ON PENDER STREET, SUVA

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A peaceful Sunday stroll turned into a scary experience for Wansolwara sub-editor Moffat Mamu, a Solomon Islander, when Fiji police picked him up by mistake. He reports on his misadventure.

SUVA, Fiji Islands (June 4, 2002 – Wansolwara)---I had my Sunday in Suva planned out. Wake up early, do a bit of gardening, shower, then head to the newsroom to work on the Wansolwara pages. After that a meal in town, followed by a 5:00 p.m. movie in the air-conditioned comfort of Village Six.

Everything went according to plan. After the movie, I decided to skip the bus and take a stroll with some friends. Bad idea.

I parted company along McGregor Road, near the Peninsula Hotel at around 7:00 p.m. and continued walking. That was when things started to go wrong.

Along the adjoining Pender Street, a police vehicle crawled past, the driver giving me strange looks. I shrugged it off. Perhaps it was the first time he had seen a Solomon Islander.

Minutes later, the vehicle passed me again, in slow fashion, the headlights lighting me up. Just some bored policemen having fun, I told myself.

But then the car stopped next to me, a head poked out of the window, and gruffly asked: "Hey! Where have you been?" Confused, I blurted: "Why are you asking?"

Three burly policemen and a policewoman got out and surrounded me. I was scanned with a flashlight. All three looked me up and down carefully. I felt under a microscope.

"Where have you been? Why are your shoes covered with dirt? Why did you change your shirt while walking?" I was stunned. My explanation that I wore my garden shoes to the cinema didn’t convince them. Neither the fact that I had changed shirts because I felt like it.

Then a hand grabbed my cargo pants pockets, followed by a demand that I empty the contents. I quickly pulled out my walkman stereo, earphone and speaker cords. I told them they belonged to me — but of course they wouldn’t listen.

I decided to reason with them. I told them I was a USP student from the Solomon Islands and confidently flashed my USP ID. They remained unimpressed. I used my best Solomon Islands accent, and rattled off a few words in pidgin, but to no avail.

Then I was bundled into a police van and taken to Suva South police post near Albert Park. The ride wasn’t at all enjoyable.

I was interrogated again. At this point, I realized they were after someone who had broken into a nearby house. By now, I was scared.

Earlier, I had noticed a news article about police bashing a suspect senseless.

Then the woman whose house was robbed turned up. Fortunately, she saw they had the wrong person. My distinctive hairstyle saved the day.

A few apologies were muttered. The police dropped me back at the pick up spot.

The experience was a nightmare. As a "guest" in this country, I expected a bit more courtesy. I was treated like a criminal.

I wonder how many more innocent people are rounded up and treated the same way? I was lucky.

USP Pacific Journalism Online: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/  Wansolwara Online (USP): http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/docs/news/index.html  USP Pasifik Nius stories on Scoop (NZ): http://www.scoop.co.nz/international.htm  Have your say: http://www.TheGuestBook.com/vgbook/109497.gbook 

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