New Zealand must protest arrest of pro-democracy leader

New Zealand should be pressing for the release of the leading Tongan pro-democracy MP Akilisi Pohiva, Green Party Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Keith Locke says.

Mr Pohiva was arrested on Thursday. Earlier, Tongan police had arrested a second pro-demcracy MP Isi Pulu, who now faces charges of murder and sedition in connection with the riots last November in the Tongan capital, Nuku’alofa. In all, some 700 people have been arrested in the wake of the riots.

“Unless New Zealand speaks out now, it will be complicit in the Tongan government’s attempt to behead the pro-democracy movement by arresting its MPs — especially so, given that New Zealand police officers have been in Tonga helping with the investigation into the November 16 rioting,” Mr Locke says.

“Akilisi Pohiva’s alibi on November 16 is watertight. He was in negotiations with the Tongan Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers when the burning and looting took place. He then went out and asked the demonstrators remaining outside the Parliament to return to their homes.

“When I visited Tonga last November and talked to the Tonga Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers it was clear to me they held the pro-democracy MP responsible for the violence — interpreting the demonstration outside Parliament that day as part of a conspiracy against the government.

“New Zealand should be pushing the Tongan government to foster dialogue and conciliation, and not to pursue criminal charges against the pro-democracy leadership.

“After all, it was the government’s rejection of the constitutional proposals of the Parliament appointed National Committee for Political Reform that was responsible for the demonstrators’ anger on November 16 – some of which, tragically, spilled over into violence,” Mr Locke says.