Government arrests student leaders


By Norm Dixon

The Papua New Guinea government has attempted to smash the class boycott by university students demanding a fresh general election. Police entered the University of PNG campus on June 19 and arrested at least four leaders of the Student Representative Council, including its president, Peterson Pipi.

At about 8 a.m. armed police interrupted a student meeting and ordered students to return to class. When one student leader protested, he was arrested. As Pipi attempted to address the students, he too was arrested. The meeting was in uproar until more armed police arrived and intimidated the students. The police said they had moved onto the campus to enforce an administration order that students return to classes.

Sources close to the students told Green Left that two of the leaders were released soon after. Pipi and another student leader, Klewer Wimi, appeared in court on June 20 and were granted bail.

Pipi is charged with inciting a breach of the peace and the unlawful possession of live ammunition (police claim to have found a bullet in his pocket). Wimi is charged with inciting a breach of the peace by seizing a government car and the unlawful possession of mace gas (which is freely available in Port Moresby shops).

UPNG students and their colleagues at Lae's University of Technology have been on an indefinite boycott of classes following the decision by parliamentarians to grant themselves largepay rises on May 22.

On May 28, Prime Minister Rabbie Namaliu was forced to defer the pay rises, but this did not satisfy students, who were also angry at government corruption and cutbacks in education and health spending. They called for a boycott of classes until a general election was called. The boycott has been widely supported and has delayed exams.

The government responded by erecting roadblocks around the universities and stationing 100 heavily armed riot police on both campuses.

The vice-chancellor of UPNG, Professor John Lynch, cooperated with the repression by calling a meeting of the University Council to which only selected members were invited. That meeting voted to suspend the SRC constitution, ban all forums and meetings on campus (an action contrary to the PNG constitution) and to allow the curfew that is in force in Port Moresby to be extended onto the university. The SRC rejected the council decisions. Similar decisions were taken by University of Technology Council.

The government hoped that it could smash the strike by removing the student leaders on trumped-up charges and sow divisions, a supporter of the students told Green Left. However, the arrests have had the opposite effect. Whereas some students had been drifting back to classes, after the arrests the strike has become 100% solid.

Following the granting of bail to Pipi and Wimi on June 20, a large demonstration marched from the court at Boroko to the UPNG campus.