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Papua New Guinea: Slow Progress On Reforms And Ongoing Restrictions To Freedom Of Expression

CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, is concerned about the slow progress on reforms to protect civic space as well as efforts by Prime Minister John Marape’s government to stifle the media and freedom of expression. These actions, highlighted in a brief published today, are inconsistent with commitments made by Papua New Guinea (PNG) to the UN Human Rights Council as well as human rights guarantees protected in the Constitution.

More than two years after the Human Rights Council called for the establishment of a national human rights commission, such a body has yet to be formed. Such an institution is extremely crucial in the promotion and protection of civic freedoms and to ensure accountability. A national human rights institution can also play an important role in protecting human rights defenders in PNG. Human rights defenders continue to face restrictions, threats and reprisals especially those speaking up publicly on land and environmental issues or exposing abuses by the state or private companies.

“The Marape government must expedite the formation of a national human rights institution in accordance with international standards and ensure the process is undertaken transparently and in consultation with civil society. Such a body will be crucial to ensure the protection of human rights defenders in PNG, many who remain at risk of reprisals for their activism,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia Pacific researcher.

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CIVICUS is also alarmed about increasing restrictions on the media, particularly after Prime Minister Marape’s re-election in August 2022 as well as a proposed National Media Development Policy that could pose significant concerns for press freedom. Further, the government seems to be dragging its feet around the enactment of Right to Information (RTI) legislation, despite guarantees in the Constitution.

There are also concerns around the continued use of the Cybercrime Act to criminalise online expression. Such criminal defamation provisions are inconsistent with the freedoms guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - which PNG ratified in 2008 - and creates a chilling effect for those in the media and individuals who chose to speak up.

“Steps must be taken to ensure that journalists can work freely and without fear of retribution for expressing critical opinions and that any existing or new laws are consistent with international human rights law and standards. The government must also move forward to draft and pass legislation to guarantee the right of everyone to access information”, said Benedict.

The authorities must also ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is respected and protected and ensure that those responsible for excessive force or unlawful killings of protesters are promptly identified, charged and prosecuted.

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