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Students continue boycott of classes

Thursday 16 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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Judge refuses to order police from campus grounds

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – A student leader at the University of Papua New Guinea says students have chosen not to attend classes out of respect for those hurt by police during last week’s unrest.

More than 20 people were injured, four of them seriously, after police opened fire on the protesting students as they tried to leave the campus.

The student leader Henry Norrie-Maim said students were free to attend classes resumed by the university yesterday but they have all chosen to stay away.

“The lecture rooms are open for us to go to school and also the staff are on campus – but it’s the students themselves that due to our traditions and customs as embedded in our constitution – most of us don’t want to go to classes while our friends that took bullets are suffering in the hospital and recovering.”

“We are not intimidated or anything, it’s just that out of respect and concern we are not attending classes. But we sure can attend classes on our own free will,” he said.

Henry Norrie-Maim said some students have observed a customary mourning ritual by covering themselves in mud and parading around the campus.

The National Court has blocked a legal attempt by protesting students at the University of Papua New Guinea to have a large and intimidating police presence removed from the Waigani and Taurama campuses.

Justice Derek Hartshorn yesterday dismissed three applications put forward by a lawyer representing the students asking the court to:

- Restrain police from occupying both the Taurama and Waigani UPNG campuses;

- Restrain police from arresting SRC leader Kenneth Rapa and other student leaders; and

- Declare that the June 8 police shooting was an execution of Metropolitan Superintendent Ben Turi’s orders, hence they were in breach of relevant constitutional provisions.

Students’ lawyer Laken Kepatu Aigilo, outside the court following the ruling, said their fight for justice is not over.

In the motion Wednesday morning, Aigilo sought a summon or order ordering Police Commissioner Gari Baki, Central Province and Port Moresby commander Sylvester Kalaut and metropolitan chief Ben Turi to be brought before the court to explain why they gave the orders for the shooting.

However, in the afternoon Justice Hartshorn denied all three applications, saying he had based his ruling on existing legal principles.

The judge said it was outrageous that the students’ representative council had sought restraining orders that were aimed at stopping normal police duties.

Outside court, Aigilo, who is providing free legal assistance to the students, told the Post-Courier he would seek further instruction from them and return to court.

“Our fight for justice is not over,” he said.

Meanwhile, the government said its immediate task is to salvage the 2016 academic year at state-run universities which have been hit by protests and boycott of classes by students for more than a month.

Chief Secretary Isaac Luparihas warned that if the protesting students did not adhere to instructions from their respective university councils and administrations, then they were likely to face some sort of penalty. He said the future was being discussed among vice-chancellors of the four State universities.

Lupari said that he had met with the four vice-chancellors – from the University of PNG, University of Technology, University of Goroka and University of Natural Resources and Environment – and will meet again next Tuesday in Port Moresby for final talks on the way forward for the students’ academic year.

Lupari urged the students to think seriously about going back to classes.

Fighting between university students in the capital of Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands province, Goroka, has eased off after police retained control of the town.

Over 50 students from the University of Goroka were reportedly injured on Tuesday in clashes linked to divisions among students about whether to return to classes or continue their boycott of classes since last month.

A local resident, Geologust Ivano Ericho, said fighting started out on campus, then spilled over into town and down to the main market.

“Not much damage to infrastructure, public property, businesses and that sort of thing,” he said.

“But a lot of people were injured. There was about between fifty and seventy people at the hospital on Tuesday, receiving treatment for various injuries and knife wounds, getting hit by stones and what not.”

The provincial administration said calm and normal business have been restored in Goroka town today, while the tensions are currently “contained to the campus”.

A student leader in Port Moresby said the conflict between students in Goroka was fueled by rumours that some had accepted payments to cause trouble. She said the rumours may have been spread to undermine student unity. - PNC sources