Papua New Guinea authorities should carry out an effective and transparent investigation into the shooting of student protesters by police in Port Moresby, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should identify and hold accountable any security officials found responsible for using unnecessary or excessive force.
On the morning of June 8, 2016, police opened fire on students on the Waigani campus of the University of Papua New Guinea as they attempted to march to the national parliament to call for a vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. Police confirmed that at least 23 students were injured, but disputed claims by opposition party activists that several protesters were killed.
“There needs to be an independent and transparent investigation into the firing of live ammunition by the police into crowds of student protesters, and any security officials responsible for wrongful orders or actions should be prosecuted,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
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The detention of more than 1,500 Papuan independence supporters on May 2 for “lacking a permit to hold a rally” speaks volumes of the government’s stubbornly problematic approach to dealing with dissent in the restive territory of Papua. This approach has for decades provided impunity for security forces, despite their abuses against Papuans and turned dozens of those exercising their universal rights to freedom of expression and association into political prisoners.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has promised Papuans a change, beginning with “an open dialogue for a better Papua”. But aside from the release of a few political prisoners, there has been barely any signs of meaningful change on the ground in Papua.
Jokowi’s December 2014 pledge to thoroughly investigate and punish security forces implicated in the death of five peaceful protesters in the Papuan town of Enarotali that month has remained unfulfilled. And the Indonesian bureaucracy continues to obstruct international media from freely reporting in Papua despite the President’s May 2015 declaration to lift the decades-old restrictions.
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