Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

By TJ Aumua

The kidnapping and attack on a local Vanuatu female tourism manager, Florence Lengkon, has stirred strong criticism of violence against women in the island nation.

Deputy Prime Minister Joe Natuman, who holds the Tourism, Commerce, Trades and Ni- Vanuatu Business portfolio, was quoted by the Vanuatu Daily Post today as saying: “Enough is enough.”

Today's Vanuatu Daily Post.
Today’s Vanuatu Daily Post.

He sent a clear message which told police to “arrest those involved in the kidnapping and assault of a female employee of the Vanuatu Helicopters”.

Lengkon was allegedly abducted and beaten after posting criticism of Vanuatu bus and taxi drivers on social media.

In an email to the Auckland-based Pacific Media Centre, Post media director Dan McGarry, who broke the story on Monday after interviewing Lengkon, said today: “I think this might just be a watershed moment in Vanuatu society.

“It’s the very first time that the preponderance of opinion has been in defence of the vulnerable instead of deferring to bullies.”

The Post reported today local police had so far arrested seven people alleged to have been involved in the kidnapping and attack on Lengkon.

Court warrant
The prosecution unit reportedly applied for a court warrant to detain the seven suspects until police completed the investigations and subsequent court hearings.

The attack on Lengkon came after she commented on a Facebook post in an online discussion where members of the public blamed the Port Vila and Efate Land Transport Authority (PVELTA) for a recent string of violent activity at the wharf.

Dan McGarry’s article about the incident on Monday reported that Lengkon’s comment had called the bus and taxi drivers “big headed” and “unprofessional”.

In her interview with the Daily Post, Lengkon she was approached by three men who pulled her from office, located on the Port Vila waterfront, on mid-Sunday morning. They forced her into a bus and took her to the wharf.

She said there were lots of taxi and bus drivers, who she was ordered to apologise too, but received verbal abuse and eventually was hit. McGarry’s report quoted her as saying:

“I apologised. I apologised for a second time, and one of them gestured like he was going to hit me. That’s when I started to cry and bent down to hide my face. I don’t know who hit me, but someone did. Blood began to run down my face.”

Details have not been released on why Lenkon’s comment was singled out and targeted as a threat when her comment was only one of more than 100 responses to the public Facebook post.

Her attack emphasises the escalating tensions between bus and taxi drivers who are dealing with loss of tourism at the port due Vanuatu’s shaky economy.

In February, rocks were thrown at a passenger-full tour bus.

A Daily Post article stated “eye witnesses reported that the ‘bus drivers were banging on the back of the buses, yelling at them and then started to stone the vehicles’”.

TJ Aumua is contributing editor of the Pacific Media Centre’s Pacific Media Watch freedom project.

Brave woman tells of beating by Vanuatu drivers – 7 arrested