Global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges the Government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to respect the right to protest peacefully and condemns the use of extreme violence by security forces in PNG to supress demonstrations by students.
On 8 June 2016 lethally armed police attacked student protestors with live ammunition as they demonstrated peacefully from the University of PNG’s Waingani Campus in Port Moresby. The protesters had planned to march from their campus to Parliament. At least 38 protesters were injured, several of them with bullet wounds and some remain in a critical condition. Other protesting students were physically assaulted as the police attempted to disperse them.
The protesters were calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill following corruption allegations against him and other senior government officials. The most recent attack on protestors follows a series of attempts by high ranking members of the security service and government officials associated with the prime minister to intimidate and silence officers working for the official corruption watchdog body – the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate (NFACD).
On 16 April 2016, the National Police Commissioner of PNG suspended the head of the NFACD and his deputy after they ordered the arrest of senior government officials including the Attorney General, a Supreme Court Judge and the Prime Minister’s lawyer as part of a probe on corruption related offences. This was followed by an order by the Police Commissioner to close down the NFACD for “administrative reasons and lack of accountability.” It was re-opened three weeks later following the ruling of the Supreme Court.
Students have been protesting for several weeks calling for Prime Minister O’Neill to step down after he repeatedly refused to answer questions about corruption allegations against him. Students faced road blocks with heavily armed police officers who opened fire as the students refused to hand over their student union leaders out of concerns they will be arrested and attempted to continue their peaceful march to the Parliament calling for a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister has responded to the violence by stating that a few students were engaged in violent behaviour and threw stones at the police and this provoked a response from the police as they fired tear gas and warning shots. He has blamed external forces for infiltrating the student protests and for starting the violence.
CIVICUS urges the Government of PNG to respect the right of citizens to protest peacefully and to conduct an independent investigation into the violence against the protesting students with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice