PNG government cracks down on activists


By Norm Dixon

Police on May 5 and 6 raided the offices and homes of activists and organisations involved in the Port Moresby demonstrations in March against the Chan government's deployment of mercenaries on Bougainville. Three leading activists were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly.

At 3.30am on May 5, heavily armed police wearing flak jackets raided the offices of PNG Watch, the peak council of NGO groups, Melanesian Solidarity (Melsol), a radical activist group, and the Individual and Community Rights Advocacy Forum (ICRAF), which defends legal and human rights.

Police arrested Jonathan O'ata, who is general secretary of PNG Watch and a member of Melsol, and charged him with three counts of unlawful assembly.

On May 6, police arrested Melsol executive members John Kawowo and John Napo, also on charges of unlawful assembly. O'ata, who was held in the Boroko police cells overnight, Kawowo and Napo were released on May 6 after paying K150 bail.

Police confiscated computers and floppy disks, files, books, pamphlets, stickers and posters. ICRAF staff members Annie Kajir and Rebecca Ipai, who also live in the house where the ICRAF office is located, were forced to open the door at gunpoint. "We were petrified", said Kajir.

The organisations raided played a leading role in mobilising opposition to the use of mercenaries. The groups, particularly Melsol, organise grassroots communities to defend their rights against the incursions of mining and forestry companies. Melsol has strong support among students and unemployed and in the villages.

ICRAF director Powes Parkop described the raids and arrests as illegal. Police should instead arrest the stood-down Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan and his deputy Chris Haiveta and charge them with "attempted mass murder", he said.

The attacks on the activists were a "political vendetta" for their role in defeating the mercenary plan and exposing the PNG government's corruption. "The police are merely being used by politicians to silence the critical voices of the NGOs", Parkop charged.

The raids and arrests have been condemned by the PNG Trade Union Congress and former prime minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu.

Rumours are sweeping Port Moresby that Brigadier General Jerry Singirok and other officers who led the revolt against Chan's mercenary adventure may soon be arrested. Major Walter Enuma, Singirok's deputy in the mutiny, visited O'ata in his cell to show support.

The National newspaper reported on May 6 that soldiers in full battle kit guarded Singirok soon after the raids. Soldiers at Murray Headquarters placed themselves on red alert.

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