PNG LGBTI Community Mourns Killing Of Gay Man By Family Member

Disconnect seen between international commitments, legsilation against discrimination

By Bruce Hill and the Pacific Beat team

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Oct. 18, 2016) – A gay community in Papua New Guinea wants police to look more seriously into the murder of openly gay man, Harry Peter.

Papua New Guinea woman Tharani Rengessamy is mourning the murder of her friend Harry Peter in the resort town of Alotau.

"Harry was a kind, compassionate man who had a positive influence on society, and he was killed because he was gay," she said.

The openly gay man was killed, allegedly by a relative, in his family home in early October.

"An extended family member killed him late one night when he returned to his home, where he was confronted by a family member and accused of not being proper," Ms Rengessamy told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat.

"The family member brought another member of his extended family into the dispute and in the end, Harry was bashed over the head ... and he bled to death."

Ms Rengessamy said the gay community was mourning the loss of their friend, who she called a "social butterfly".

"Even though Harry had such a positive impact on people's lives, he also had a negative effect on people's lives, because people couldn't accept the fact that Harry was gay," she said.

She said Harry Peter's murder had split the wider Alotau community in two.

"You've got the community that's accepted the gay community, and you've got the community that is very happy of Harry's death because they believe that the gay community is a disgrace and should not actually exist," she said.

Under Papua New Guinea law, male homosexual activity is illegal, punishable by between three and 14 years in prison.

It is understood local police spoke to Mr Peter's family after the man's death.

But Ms Rengessamy said the police investigation had stalled.

"It has been on the national news. Even then, nothing has happened with the police investigation," she said.

"Basically everything is being swept under the rug and we're being told it is a family problem and the state or police should not be involved." 

A Papua New Guinea gay rights activist attending the LGBTI Youth Forum in Sydney said he was not surprised to hear of the murder and the reaction to it.

The man, known as David, said gay boys and men faced a lifetime of bullying, name-calling, and psychological trauma.

"There's a disconnection in Papua New Guinea between the international conventions it's signed and domestic law," he said.

"For example, PNG has already signed the declaration for human rights, but what are the laws at the national level that create that enabling environment for a human being to survive in the country?

"I think that there will be changes, but it takes time for changes to happen in society, and I don't think he will be the last [gay man to be murdered]."

A transgender equality activist has called on Pacific gay communities — including in Australia and New Zealand — to mobilise and demand authorities in Papua New Guinea properly investigate Harry Peter's murder.

Sulique Waqa of the Fiji transgender movement Haus of Khameleon said the PNG government must act to protect the LGBTQI community.

"This is a pure hate crime, a crime that is committed against a person because of his sexual orientation," she said.

"Now the PNG police need to be aware of this, so does the judiciary, the reporters and the prosecutors, and it has to be called out for what it is."

Friend facing backlash for speaking out

Ms Rengessamy backed calls for police to do more.

"The Alotau community is actually in more fear now because the actual person who is the reason for Harry's death, the extended family member, is actually out and about," she said.

"They're afraid that if he has killed once, what's stopping him form killing again, and these people would be a prime target.

"Which also means that if the police don't take this person into custody and trial according to sate law, it means that anybody who's against anybody that's gay can kill."

Ms Rengessamy spoke to Pacific Beat after Harry Peter's murder, criticising the social attitudes in PNG which she believes led to the death of her friend.

As a consequence, she said, she was facing a public backlash.

"I've had people message me through social media saying it isn't any of my business and that I don't understand what's going on," she said.

"I've also had people come to my home and threaten me because of this saying that I should back off or something will happen to me, they will hurt me.

"Two gentlemen came to my house, people who are well known in this community have come to my home, and have told me that if I don't back off then the next person on the chopping block would be me, if I continue to pursue this issue about Harry.

"I don't understand why there is so much negativity because Harry was a human being.

"I'm a true friend to Harry and I'm going to fight for Harry's justice."

internationalpacificHarry Peter of Alotau was killed on October 2, 2016.

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