Strange local silence over shocking PNG shooting of peaceful student protesters

By   /   June 9, 2016  /   3 Comments

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The Papua New Guinea police opened fire yesterday on a group of students at the University of Papua New Guinea who were peacefully protesting against the alleged corruption of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. Several eye-witnesses have come forward to say they saw students beaten and shot at, including one case where a student was shot in the head. Why the muted attention from much of our media?

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A wounded student being carried into Port Moresby General Hospital by emergency department staff yesterday. Image: Asia Pacific Report/Martyn Namorong/Tagali Hillside Darkhorse FB

David Robie also blogs at Cafe Pacific

Curious how there has been a largely muted local media response to the outrageous events in Papua New Guinea yesterday. Armed police opened fire on peaceful protesters on their own Waigani campus at the University of Papua New Guinea. There are conflicting reports about casualties, but Port Moresby General Hospital authorities say that only eight people were treated for gunshot wounds, four critically, but nobody died. Other sources insist the casualties are worse than what has been admitted. Students across Papua New Guinea have been waging peaceful protests and class boycotts for almost two months. They have been consistently and persistently calling for Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s resignation pending a police investigation into corruption allegations.

The picture posted on this blog is from the Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report. Now read on with this statement today from Amnesty International:

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PROTESTS OVER ‘DISGRACEFUL SHOOTINGS’ OF PNG STUDENTS

The scene at Port Moresby General Hospital yesterday as wounded students were brought in for treatment after the shootings. Image: Asia Pacific Report/Amnesty International

The scene at Port Moresby General Hospital yesterday as wounded students were brought in for treatment after the shootings. Image: Asia Pacific Report/Amnesty International

The shooting of students peacefully protesting in Port Moresby yesterday is a disgraceful attack on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, says Amnesty International.

The organisation has received information that there are 38 people injured, including four in critical condition. Three people are still being assessed in emergency.

The front page of today's The National, one of PNG's two national daily newspapers.

The front page of today’s The National, one of PNG’s two national daily newspapers.

“The shooting of students peacefully protesting is reminiscent of the worst excesses of repressive regimes in the region,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s director for South East Asia and the Pacific.

“Papua New Guinea’s authorities must establish a prompt, impartial and independent investigation to determine who is responsible for the unnecessary and excessive use of force.”

The Papua New Guinea police opened fire yesterday on a group of students at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) who were peacefully protesting against the alleged corruption of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

Several eye-witnesses have come forward to say they saw students beaten and shot at, including one case where a student was shot in the head.

In a statement, Prime Minister O’Neill blamed the violence on the students who had set out from their university for a peaceful protest at Parliament.

‘Warning shots’
Before any investigation has taken place, he has denied that the police targeted the students, claiming that their only response was the use of tear-gas and “warning shots”.

“Prime Minister O’Neill’s reaction has been completely inadequate. He should ensure an investigation worthy of its name takes place into reports of excessive use of force. Instead, he has prejudged the outcome, blamed the students for what happened to them, and sought to evade accountability,” said Rafendi Djamin.

Prime Minister O’Neill told Parliament that an investigation into the shootings at UPNG would take place. It is not clear who will carry out the investigation, when it happen, or whether it will be independent of any government or police interference.

“It is not good enough for the authorities to investigate themselves,” said Rafendi Djamin. “The Papua New Guinea government is trying to absolve the police of all responsibility for the unlawful use of force.”

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The PNG Post-Courier’s front page today.

Claims by the Papua New Guinea authorities directly contradict several first-hand accounts reported of the violence.

Outside Port Moresby General Hospital, families and friends of students who were attacked were peacefully protesting the shootings. Hospital officials have said that they had heard shooting outside the hospital.

“The police must exercise restraint and respect the right to peaceful protest. Firearms must only be used when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” said Rafendi Djamin.

Background
Since May, Prime Minister O’Neill’s government has been the focus of sustained student protests over allegations of corruption.

O’Neill is accused by PNG’s Taskforce Sweep of allegedly authorising payments for fraudulent legal bills amounting to A$30 million.

The students have used peaceful methods, including protests and a boycott of classes.

Prime Minister O’Neill has lashed out at the students for taking part in the peaceful protests, deriding them as poor performing students and warning that they will have to “face the consequences” in terms of their academic prospects.

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About the author

Dr David Robie

Professor at AUT University

Dr David Robie is professor of journalism and director of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre. He is a strong advocate of independent media at the country’s journalism schools. David has published the media transparency blog Café Pacific since 2006. - See More

3 Comments

  1. GettingOn says:

    Yeah it is quite shocking. We have a lot of citizens over there, so you would think it would have local interest. But hey, the five-year-old boy in Japan left by his parents on the side of the road has forgiven his parents according to the news last night – that’s what we all needed to know!

  2. Steve King says:

    So who do we believe? Has anybody died since ? What wounds did the “critically” injured have? Has anybody spoken to any family of the injured? What events or exchanges immediately preceded the shootings? Who gave the order to shoot? Whose decision was it to arm the cops?



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