Deputy PM Namah leads security operation to 'arrest' Chief Justice
PNG's controversial Deputy PM Belden Namah.
Papua New Guinea’s constitutional crisis has hit a new low with Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah marching into the Supreme Court today with police and soldiers to ‘arrest’ Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia.
The DPM yesterday warned the Chief Justice and Justices Nicholas Kirriwom and Les Gavara-Nanu that they had 24 hours to resign from the bench, after they upheld the December 2011 Supreme Court ruling that reinstated veteran MP Sir Michael Somare as PM.
Port Moresby-based commercial radio PNGFM Limited posted on social media that one of its reporters witnessed the attempted arrest this afternoon.
“Just minutes after 2 pm today (PNG Time), Member for Vanimo Green Belden Namah, accompanied by police and military personnel entered court room 3 at Waigani court house, whilst the Chief Justice was presiding over a case and attempted to arrest him. Reporters were ordered out of the court house while police and defence officers began a search for the CJ who managed to escape. According to Mr Namah, the Chief Justice will be charged for treason and sedition. Right now, all staff at the National/Supreme Court are standing outside their offices as the registrar has also been arrested and has been ordered to locate the Chief Justice,” the radio station reported.
According to journalists who witnessed the incident, PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) soldiers who accompanied police also forced photographers to delete pictures of the impending arrest.
“Hey and our democratic rights have been abused as photographers were commanded by the military personnel to delete any photographs taken,” one of the journalists posted on social media.
Earlier today National and Supreme Court registrar Ian Augerea released a statement urging Mr Namah to withdraw his threats to arrest the three senior judges, while highlighting that the DPM did not have the authority to force them to resign.
Mr Namah’s continued criticism of the judiciary was also in breach of a November 15, 2011 Supreme Court order, Mr Augerea added.
While parliament-elected PM Peter O’Neill continues to assert the legitimacy of his government despite the Supreme Court ruling, it is his deputy who has been raising eyebrows with his strong-arm tactics directed at the judiciary and political foes.
Papua New Guineans this afternoon took to social media to condemn Mr Namah and his attempt to arrest the judges with one commenting: “BN (Belden Namah) may be the DPM but he does not have in his powers to do arrests, be it the CJ or any person for that matter, nor does the military have in their powers the legal right to do any civilian arrest outside of their jurisdiction. Let the police do their job without being coerced or paid to do arrests. BN continues to be an embarrassment to the nation of PNG!”
The DPM’s ‘commanding’ of a group of policemen and PNGDF soldiers into the court precinct this afternoon will also be a concern for the PNG Electoral Commission and international election observers, as it raises questions about the impartiality of security forces who are supposed to play a pivotal role securing the elections next month.