Protesting PNG students seek public support

3:51 pm on 17 May 2016
UPNG circular on student protest

The university's vice-chancellor said the campuses would be sealed, and police ordered onto the campus. Photo: supplied

Protesting students at the University of Papua New Guinea are planning to go out into Port Moresby to conduct awareness about their cause.

This comes after armed police moved onto both Port Moresby campuses this morning after requests from the university management, followwing more than two weeks of class boycotts.

NBC News reported about 20 buses are lined up outside the UPNG's Waigani campus to transport students to the city.

The national broadcaster said students had assured police that they intended to carry out peaceful awareness activities and had been given verbal permission to go ahead with their plans.

A UPNG student leader Hercules Jim said they wanted to educate the public about the dire state of PNG's economy and the reasons students were calling for prime minister Peter O'Neill's resignation.

"Peter O'Neill must respect the integrity of the office of the prime minister of this nation. Because there are many allegations attached to him, and the people, the university students have lost confidence. That is why we ask him to respect the integrity of the office of the prime minister. Simply, step down and face the full force of law."

Papua New Guinea university students.

Papua New Guinea university students. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

The entire student body had been boycotting classes in protest at Prime Minister Peter O'Neill's refusal to step down from office amid a corruption scandal.

The students sought to hold a referendum to legitimise their boycott, but the electoral commission has refused to validate their efforts.

University vice-chancellor Albert Mellam issued a notice saying the campuses would be sealed because some students' activities bordered on criminality.

"Police is called upon to perform its constitutional duty to protect lives and properties," the statement said.

This would "ensure normalcy is restored on both campuses and students return to class immediately".

Noel Anjo, a prominent PNG activist, said he believed bringing police on to campus is akin to adding fuel to a burning fire.

Mr Anjo, president of the People's Power Movement, was at the university as police moved in and said he witnessed more than 40 heavily armed police vehicles on campus.

"They are fully equipped like going to a war," said Mr Anjo.

"The students said they will welcome the police to campus and they can, the policemen can go into class. They can attend class and the students will come out and conduct public awareness."

Meanwhile, an opposition MP, Belden Namah, said Mr O'Neill was using the police to shut down the protests against him, thus removing students' constitutional rights.

"You cannot suppress people for freedom of expression and freedom of speech. That is enshrined in our constitution and Peter O'Neill knows that very well. You cannot put pressure on people by doing that," said Mr Namah. "When you that you allow people to take the law into their own hands, which is something that I want to discourage at all costs."

Police have so far been unable to be reached for comment.