“This is a date I will never forget, but will never want to remember, 23 Aug 2012 at 1830 Kali passed away peacefully at the Viola Hospital, Tonga”
Constable Kali Fungavaka’s wife Audra Watts and her four children were at her husband’s bedside last night in Tonga following an assault in the police cell in Nuku’alofa six days ago.
Fungavaka was in Tonga for his grandfather’s funeral where he was a pall bearer but was arrested in a bar later for drunken behaviour.
Reports from Fatai Faingaa from Radio Tonga says “We’ve also heard from one of our sources from the Ministry of Police that he first hit one of the Tongan Police, he fell down, but then they didn’t do anything about it, they (brought) him to the prison and did the alleged assault inside the prison.”
Fungavaka was assaulted by two police officers before being locked up. He was then placed in a police cell with five other men where he was assaulted by a third man sustaining major head injuries.
He was transported to the Viola hospital for surgery to his head but sadly never regained consciousness.
“Kali fought long enough for the children to see him, hug him and tell him how much they love him. Thank you to the support group we had here in Tonga and to the staff at the Viola Hospital”, his wife has said.
His body will remain at the Viola hospital until a post mortem is conducted to determine the cause of death.
Tonga’s assistant police commissioner Viliami ‘Unga Fa’aoa has ruled out more serious charges against the two officers who have been arrested and charged and remain in custody.
The authorities have now opened up a manslaughter investigation upgrading the charges from grievous bodily harm to either manslaughter or murder following his death but are unsure who these charges will be laid against.
Assistant commissioner Fa’aoa said a civilian, Kalisitiane Manu, who was also arrested for drunkenness in a public place last Friday, had been charged with grievous bodily harm of Fungavaka and will appear in the Magistrate’s Court next Monday.
Tongan police have always had a reputation for brutality especially towards prisoners. In the past years tongan authorities have been reluctant to lay full murder charges as the mandatory death sentence is allowed in Tonga.
Former commissioner Chris Kelley of Dunedin told Radio New Zealand “that violence and offending of that nature was prevalent”.
He said there were a number of incidents of “police officers taking the law into their own hands” while he served from 2007 to 2011.
“I dealt with 270 complaints received and 40 of those were related to violence, violence by police officers, and I put a number of those people before the court,” he said.
In a country where alcohol abuse is a major concern coupled with the police brutality, it was very unfortunate that this has happened.