PNG Chief Justice arrested and charged

06/03/2012 16:20

Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia


Armed policemen entered the Supreme Court precinct in Port Moresby this morning and arrested Papua New Guinea’s Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia.

News of Sir Injia’s arrest broke on PNG social media networks with Port Moresby-based lawyers and court staff confirming that Sir Salamo was taken into police custody and moved down to the PNG Police headquarters for questioning.

Port Moresby commercial radio station PNG FM reported that the Chief Justice was arrested at the car park within the court precinct and was accompanied by the court registrar to police headquarters. Court staff and lawyers told the radio station they have had enough of the “intrusion” by the O’Neill government and it was obvious the orders to arrest the judge came from the “top”.

His arrest sets the O’Neill government on another collision course with the judiciary. It is understood Sir Salamo has been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice and was released on bail.

The O’Neill government has unsuccessfully tried to remove PNG’s head judge since November last year but the Supreme Court countered with bench warrants for a number of government ministers as well as stay orders, nullifying any further attempts by the regime.

Ironically, the legitimacy of the O’Neill government and the failure by the latter to allow the reinstatement of sidelined PM Sir Michael Somare is before the same court with the matter returnable on 16 March.

Sir Michael has condemned the actions of the policemen, saying it was contemptuous for them to enter the court precincts to arrest Sir Salamo.

“What is happening in the country is deplorable and unacceptable. If what I am hearing is true, it is contemptuous for armed policemen to enter the precinct of the courts and kidnapping at gunpoint the Chief Justice for ‘questioning’. The regime’s initial action to suspend the Chief Justice last year was contemptuous and still is. By ignoring court orders and continuing their pursuit of the Chief Justice and the East Sepik provincial government members, these numerically strong gangs of members of parliament – with the aid of the police and Defence Force – have taken siege of our constitution,” he said in a statement issued this afternoon.

Roger Traves, president of the Bar Association of Queensland, has also expressed concern at the developments in a statement released this afternoon.

“What needs to be established is that the arrest was the result of an independent police investigation and not the result of higher level, executive government interference. The executive must respect the judiciary, decisions of the court and the rule of law. To do otherwise was to reject the due performance by the court of its constitutional obligations and hence to reject the constitution,” he said and warned the PNG constitution is the last line of defense against “unrestrained exercise of power” by the state over Papua New Guineans.

The arrest of the head judge coincides with reports that over 50 policemen arrived this morning in Wewak, the East Sepik provincial capital and hometown of Sir Michael, in a charter aircraft and by boat to “restore command and control” over the province’s police force.

Their arrival will pave the way for the O’Neill government-established Task Force Sweep Team – which has embarked on a nationwide crusade to weed out corruption – to return to the province after an angry mob invaded Wewak’s Boram airport last month and forced an aircraft carrying the investigators to return to Port Moresby.

According to Wewak-based journalist Gregory Pegines, the policemen refused to execute a restraining order served on the investigators, which the East Sepik provincial government had obtained from the National Court.

Sir Michael said he received reports from Wewak that police personnel on a military vessel entered Wewak early this morning through Moem Barracks.

“I am also told that another band of policemen will be entering Wewak through Vanimo to arrest members of the East Sepik provincial government. Either Mr O’Neill is in charge and consenting to these actions or he has no control over what is going on. Whatever the case maybe, this bullying and harassment has to stop, for the greater interest of peace and harmony in our country. Mr O’Neill has to tell PNG where the police are getting their orders from and if it is from his deputy, can he tell PNG what actions he will be taking to stop this abuse,” the veteran MP added.