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Crackdown on Students in PNG

University students in Papua New Guinea, who organised widespread protests calling on Prime Minister O’Neill to stand aside and face corruption charges, have again become the target of a ruthless crackdown – this time by their university.

The students’ demands relate to allegations by a national anti-corruption taskforce, which implicated the Prime Minister in corrupt activities. The accusations relate to alleged improper payments of $30 million funneled through a law firm.

The students had organised a boycott of classes which lasted 6 weeks, and collected over 10,000 signatures on a petition in support of their demands. The students were fired on by police when they attempted to march on Parliament to present their anti-corruption petition in June, with four students badly injured.

In response to subsequent violence, the university cancelled classes for the remainder of the semester. Classes resumed on September 5th, however, on the first day of classes 60 university students who had participated in the boycott and protest were informed that the university would not allow them to return and they would be unable to complete their studies.

Calls to reinstate the expelled students are getting louder both within the country and outside of it – with Australian unions putting pressure on university management to respect the students’ right to protest and right to education.

The students were not the only one’s protesting against the government. Following the shooting, the opposition parties called a vote of no confidence, and a group of PNG pilots and other professionals took strike action in support of the students’ demands. Eight pilots were sacked for taking part in this political action, with the airline accusing them of damaging its reputation and tarnishing its image.

Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA has shown its support for the students, joining a rally outside the PNG embassy with Australian unions and members of the PNG community to call on the PNG government to respect the students’ right to protest without fear of police violence.

A number of Australian unions, including the NTEU and the MUA, and the ACTU, are supporting the students’ right to protest and right to education. Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA believes that a strong democracy requires a strong civil society, which must include strong labour and student movements who can call governments to account without fear of reprisal.

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