One Year After Being Shot At, PNG Student Protestors Still Waiting For Justice

No word on two investigations; no police have been charged or disciplined

By Papua New Guinea correspondent Eric Tlozek

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, June 8, 2017) – University students in Papua New Guinea say they are still waiting for justice one year after they were shot at by police while protesting against Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.

Eight students were shot and dozens were injured by tear gas or from being trampled after police opened fire on a crowd outside the University of Papua New Guinea on June 8.

There has been no progress announced on two investigations into the incident and little discussion of the shootings, as Mr O'Neill vies for re-election this month.

Student leader Christopher Kipalan said many students were disappointed that no police had been charged or disciplined.

"Justice has been denied," he said.

"I can see through their face that the students still require that justice be done, and the perpetrators must be punished."

At the time, PNG police promised an investigation into the protests and the shootings, and PNG's Ombudsman Commission also announced it would conduct its own inquiry.

Neither organisation responded to the ABC's questions about whether there had been any progress over the past 12 months.

Mr Kipalan said it was concerning that no government agency had taken any action.

"It's very scary if we can let [the] biggest shootout at the premier university of this country, to just go without any form of investigation or people being punished for that," he said.

"And it's taken as just another everyday issue, then I'm scared about that."

'Police need to be charged'

Communications student Steven Likas, who was shot in the head, said he was still recovering from his injury.

"Sometimes I am not able to talk much," he said.

"Sometimes I am not able to eat strong food, and sometimes when someone touches my head I usually feel faint and I am not able to sleep that night."

Mr Likas said he was disappointed no police had been charged for shooting students.

"It was witnessed by the whole country," he said.

"They should have charged those people who were using high-powered guns to shoot us, the unarmed students."

'Nobody is above the law'

The students spent weeks boycotting classes in protest at the Prime Minister's refusal to be questioned by police on a charge of official corruption made in 2014.

Mr O'Neill said the charge was politically-motivated and has been challenging it in the courts.

The matter remains unresolved as he prepares to contest the PNG elections on June 24.

Classes eventually resumed at the university, although student leader Tracy Ponak said many students have been forced to repeat a year.

"They're not really happy because they are blaming the strike for their failure, they got their fails because of the strike, so they are blaming the government as well as the students who took part," she said.

Ms Ponak said the protests did stimulate political discussion and increase awareness, but they also left many people disillusioned.

"Nobody is above the law, whether you are the prime minister of PNG or a small businessman or grassroot," she said.

"So I think the rule of law is not in existence in PNG because of what the police did and what Prime Minister Peter O'Neill did."

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