PNG 'terrorism' law draws protest
By David Robie
PORT MORESBY — Papua New Guinea's harsh new Internal Security Act has been attacked as the "most disturbing" law passed by the country's parliament since independence in 1975.
Part of the government's crackdown on crime and aimed at supporters of the four-year-old Bougainville secession, it provides for banishings, jailings and seizure of property.
Prime Minister Paias Wingti has also announced plans to abolish the legal maxim of "innocent until proven guilty".
Wingti blames the country's law and order problems — by far the worst in the Pacific — on unemployment. His latest measures have come amid calls from politicians and community groups for curfews, a state of emergency and public floggings.
He has promised increased funding for the police, tighter alcohol laws and the basing of police at strategic mining sites. Other moves include stricter bail procedures, quicker arrests and harsher penalties for firearms and drug offenders.
Opposition MPs branded the act as "draconian" and a move towards dictatorial rule. Opposition leader Jack Genia condemned the "railroading" of the legislation through parliament and said he would seek a Supreme Court ruling on whether the act was constitutional.
A criminologist at the National Research Institute, Sinclair Dinnen, said the anti-terrorism law had serious implications for the rights of citizens.
"Is it directed against terrorists who use violence for political ends, or is it against rascals [criminals], grassroots landowners who dispute resource developments, rioting students and so on?", Dinnen asked.
According to the Times of Papua New Guinea, the government could decide under the law to declare groups such as the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front in French-ruled New Caledonia or the Melanesian Free Papua Movement in Indonesian-ruled Irian Jaya "terrorist" organisations.
Spokespeople for non-government organisations also condemned the law, but were reluctant to be publicly named in news reports.
"The powers and provisions in the act are very broad and wide", said one spokesperson. "They can be open to abuse and misuse for political ends by those who exercise power."
The new law provides the government with powers to banish people suspected as likely to engage in terrorism to other parts of the country. There is no right of appeal. It also enables the government to deport foreigners and bar their entry into PNG.
People who help arm illegal groups, openly advocate armed revolt or support rebel groups face up to 14-year jail terms and K100,000 (A$150,000) fines.
Anybody wearing any item of clothing or carrying articles arousing "reasonable apprehension" that he or she is a member of a terrorist organisation can be jailed for up to three years or fined K1000.
The government also plans to introduce identification cards, repatriation laws and restrictions on freedom of movement.
[David Robie is a NZ journalist and author living in Port Moresby.]