Pacific Media Watch

28 February 2012

PNG: Government launches crackdown on internet dissent

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PORT MORESBY (Television New Zealand News / Pacific Media Watch): The Papua New Guinea government has launched a crackdown on "subversive" activity on the internet.

It has begun monitoring the internet and is urging citizens to dob in anyone spreading "malicious and misleading" anti-state information online and via text messages.

Chief-of-Staff to Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, Ben Micah, announced the initiative in the Port Moresby-based National newspaper today.

"The military, police and the National intelligence Organisation and other pro-government civilian networks are monitoring all attempts to destabilise the government's firm control of the country," Micah said.

"All patriots and law-abiding citizens are required to be vigilant.

"Such misinformation includes any information which you consider to be illegal and detrimental to the peace and good order of your community and subversive to the overall security of the nation."

Micah also referred to anti-government information sent via text message and email, and comments posted on Facebook.

Micah has yet to respond to queries.

Suspicious activity
Six telephone numbers have been listed for citizens to call and report so-called suspicious activity.

Media have tried to call all six, but they were either disconnected or rang out.

A police spokesman, who declined to be named, said no orders had been issued by the government for the monitoring of social networking sites.

"No orders have trickled down at this time and so far the police have no involvement," he said.

Both the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Pacific Media Centre (PMC) say the announcement raises deep concerns over free speech and the rights of individual privacy.

"The statement threatens unspecified punishment for those found to be using personal communications technology in a manner deemed illegal and detrimental," the groups said in a joint statement.

"It appears to criminalise the personal use of phones, email and social networking websites without a clear legal mandate.

Punished online
"Policies and laws which attempt to censor or punish those expressing themselves online, or via other communications technologies, violate this core principle of democracy."

On the popular PNG Facebook group, Sharp Talk, reactions were similar to those of the IFJ and the PMC.

"Is Ben Micah forgetting that freedom of speech is one of the fundamental pillars of democracy," wrote Samson Metofa.

The outlook of another site visitor, Johnny Mortel, was more grim.

"I won't be surprised of this site is deleted from Facebook," he wrote. "If that's the case ... talkers here will be sniped down."

PNG has just emerged from a period of intense political turmoil after the Supreme Court ordered the return to power of ousted prime minister Sir Michael Somare without the backing of the majority of parliament.

O'Neill and his supporters have been running the country since August last year, and maintained control of the nation during a failed bloodless mutiny attempt at the behest of Sir Michael's ousted cabinet in January.

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