By Norm Dixon
Charges against Bougainville human rights campaigner Rosemarie Gillespie have been dropped after the uproar following her arrest for possession of "restricted substances" — prescription drugs destined for Bougainville. The June 3 decision by the NSW director of public prosecutions to drop the charges came soon after an order by the NSW Supreme Court that Gillespie's passport be returned.
Gillespie was arrested on May 27 in the NSW country town of Tarcutta as she was travelling to Canberra. She was forced to surrender her passport to police as a condition of bail. This jeopardised her attendance at the June 10 session of the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Geneva where she was to present first-hand evidence of the impact of the blockade and human rights abuses by PNG troops.
Her arrest raised questions about state and federal secret police surveillance of Gillespie's efforts to gather humanitarian aid for the people of Bougainville. Sources in the Bougainville Freedom Movement told Green Left Weekly that, following her arrest, NSW police photocopied documents in Gillespie's possession, including her diary and address book, on the direction of ASIO.
The medicines seized by police were antibiotics and anti-malarial drugs donated by Melbourne's Alfred and Royal Children's Hospitals to the Australian Humanitarian Aid for Bougainville organisation. Bougainville has been blockaded by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force for over three years. The blockade has prevented vital medicines from reaching the island causing much misery and loss of life.
Commenting on the incident, Moses Havini, the Bougainville Interim Government's international political representative, said the blockade of Bougainville has been extended to NSW. "First we have Australian-supplied Iroquois helicopter gunships, patrol boats, small arms ammunition, used by the Papua New Guinea military to enforce the blockade on
Bougainville, and now the Australian police stop humanitarian aid."
The Australian Democrats have promised to introduce changes to legislation to ensure such events do not recur. "It is a ludicrous situation when humanitarian work can be treated as criminal activity", said Senator Sid Spindler, the Democrats' legal spokesperson.
The PNG Defence Force again denied Red Cross officials access to Bougainville on May 31. Chairperson of the PNG Red Cross, Luani Henao, said an official from the ICRC from Geneva was turned back by PNGDF officials in Rabaul despite clearance given by the PNG minister for Bougainville affairs, Michael Ogio.