A New Zealand man spent a "wretched" night in a Fiji prison cell after frightened residents and police raided his Freemasons meeting, suspecting witchcraft and sorcery.
The man, who didn't want to be named, blamed "dopey village people" for the raid in which 14 members of the Freemasons Lodge of Lautoka were herded into police cars and jailed for the night.
Police also seized lodge paraphernalia, including wands, compasses and a skull.
Yesterday, the man told the Herald that Tuesday night's meeting was "interrupted by a banging on the door and there were these village people and the police demanding to be let in".
Nothing sinister had been going on but "such is the nature of life in Fiji" they were taken to a nearby police station, he said.
The Masons were told nothing of the allegations against them, but were warned that under Fiji's emergency decree, they could be jailed for 48 hours without charge.
The lodge secretary showed police a copy of the permit allowing the meeting, but was told the permit was not the problem.
The commanding police officer then disappeared, leaving the 14 men to spend the night in the cells.
"It was hot and wasn't very comfortable, because there was nowhere to lie down," the man said. "The officers who were guarding us were pleasant, though, chatting away to us."
At 8.30am yesterday, an officer let them go, saying the Prime Minister's office had ordered they be released.
The man said he was outraged that overly suspicious villagers had been able to convince police to "totally abuse their power".
He said the police should have told the villagers to calm down.
"The stupidity is overwhelming. Virtually unlimited power is placed in the hands of bungling police, who have no judgment or sense of balance, so, at the whim of an uneducated villager, 14 senior members of society had to spend a night locked up."
A police spokesman said the men were arrested because police had been tipped off that a meeting was being held and there were "some strange goings-on".
* Source: The New Zealand Herald.
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