ON Saturday 8 March, we picked up eight women from the shabby cells of Minj police station in the central highlands province of Jiwaka. It was another case of police brutality.
The women had been detained three days earlier together with 21 men during a raid conducted between Koronigle and Waingar in Simbu, along the Highlands Highway. They were randomly picked up and detained by Jiwaka police in Minj.
Most of those arrested were mourning the death of one of their local leaders who was assaulted at Molka Lodge in Minj and died some weeks later due to the injuries he had sustained.
The slow response of the police in relation to the attack and death of that man and the escape of the main culprit led some of the frustrated relatives and mourners to attack some police vehicles and officers who were on the way back to Minj after a post mortem conducted on the victim in Goroka.
It was a stupid act by some stupid men with terrible consequences for the whole village.
The next day police from Jiwaka drove in a long convoy of police vehicles towards Koronigle and Waingar and jumped out of their vehicles fully armed with guns, machetes and sticks.
In their rage, they ran amok, shooting teargas, threatening people at gunpoint, stopping travelling cars at gunpoint, pointing guns at women and old people, beating up people at random, destroying food gardens, burning houses, killing pigs, looting stores, confiscating alcohol and arresting people at will.
During this operation they might have arrested some of those responsible for the attack on the police vehicles but most of the people arrested were mourners. Some of them were from other parts of Simbu who happened to be at the hauskrai on that fateful day.
Some people were not even at the hauskrai when arrested. They were at home, in their gardens or at the market.
One of the women arrested, who I know very well, was walking with her bilum from her garden when she was stopped, pushed to the ground, kicked all over her body and thrown into the police vehicle. Her garden was several hundred metrers away from the hauskrai.
These people were innocent and had nothing to do with the attack on the police; they were just at that place at the wrong time. They received unimaginable treatment at the hands of the Jiwaka police.
From a so-called disciplined force one would expect a more diplomatic, intelligent and peaceful way of confronting such an issue. But instead their rampage and destruction did not reflect any sign of discipline. They behaved more like chaotic hooligans and criminals in uniform.
There was not even a single sign of ethical, humane conduct in the operation, and no respect for the human rights of their fellow citizens, especially mothers and the elderly.
I was shocked to tears when I heard the story of the women and saw the evidence of the treatment they received at the hands of the male and female officers in the Minj cells.
They received Guantanamo-like treatment. The physical injuries were shocking, but these women also have to deal with the psychological injuries and trauma. Some of them told me that even looking at an officer in blue causes them to tremble.
Two of the women arrested were still breast feeding. They had to fill up bottles with their milk to be taken to their babies back home. Another woman was three months pregnant. She showed me a black spot from a police boot at her back.
All the women had cuts and bruises all over their faces and bodies. What really shocked me was to see cigarette burns on the arms and faces of the women. They were beaten up several times inside the prison and even outside in front of crowds, sprayed with cold water and told to sing ‘This is the day’ or the National Anthem. Doctors and medical treatment to treat the wounds were not allowed by the police.
Our police force does not have the best reputation because of such undisciplined displays all over the country. They should be trusted by the people but instead people are afraid of the police. They have treated women and mothers and men like hardcore criminals without any previous trial or evidence of involvement.
I really hope that those responsible for the attack will be brought to justice to “face the full force of the law” (as the police likes to say).
Enough is enough! If they continue to treat their fellow country men and women in such a way, the police force should not be surprised to see in the near future an equal ‘eye for an eye’ reaction from the hands of those whom they have actually pledged to protect.