Disappointment at cancellation of protest in PNG
A decision by Papua New Guinea police to cancel a public protest raises concerns about the country's commitment to democracy.
A Papua New Guinean governance campaigner says the latest police ban on a protest shows that the country is not a democracy.
A protest march on the opening of parliament was planned today, but police issued a directive saying it would be illegal.
The Port Moresby police chief, superintendent Benjamin Turi, says it is the best decision for the safety and security of residents and businesses.
Activist Martyn Namorong told Don Wiseman the police action is disappointing.
MARTYN NAMORONG: It is perhaps something that was expected considering the huge response that was given by people, given the difficult economic times, the problems that are associated with that and perhaps a much more well informed public. There was a big response to the call that was put on social media for a protest, and predictably we have a clamp down on it. Again, from my perspective, the authorities have the legal mandate to do that and so it brings into question whether Papua New Guinea truly sees itself as a democracy if we have laws that allow police to clamp down on lawful assembly.
DON WISEMAN: Police say that they saw this as the best way to ensure the safety and security of businesses and residents. Do you think the protesters, some of whom are clearly friends of yours, posed a threat to safety and security.
MN: Many of the organisers are not new to the protest scene and have been protesting for the last decade or half a decade, and I have been involved in some of those protests, at least in the recent five years, and in my experience there wasn't any illegal activity or chaos or anything. We have had protests in the past that were well organised. No property was damaged, at least in the recent past, and were generally peaceful. So even a couple of years back a judge in the National Court granted orders that prevented the police from not allowing the protest. I think the judge was of the opinion that this was peaceful and lawful assembly and should not be undermined by the authorities.
DW: Are police here just taking the easy way?
MN: Yeah yeah. This sort of decision isn't evidence based - that is to say, at least in the recent history. Of course in the past we have had that experience [violence] but that is over a decade ago, but in recent history and with the people that are involved with the protest movement we haven't had the security issues claimed by the authorities. And obviously the authorities are keen on clamping down on any forms of freedom of expression and any forms of community organisation against what are perceived as situations that are very bad for the country.
DW: Do you think that police are acting here of their own volition or are they being directed by the government?
MN: There is a long history of the politicisation of the [police] force, not just by this government but by previous governments. I cannot imagine that the police would be acting out of any objective assessment, or evidence based assessment of the situation, but based on the wishes of their political masters.
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