Refugee protests against companies providing services on Manus

Peaceful Assembly

Refugee protests against lack of care by companies

A refugee on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island mounted a protest against four companies providing services to refugees.

Sudanese refugee, Bashir Osman, said the companies JDA Wokman, NKW, Paladin and Pacific International Hospital (PIH) were "holding the refugees’ captive and not providing adequate care". The refugee protested alone outside a service providers' office at West Lorengau Transit Centre for four hours on 13th August 2018. Others were reportedly too afraid to join him. Osman said:

"All those companies they're like bloodsuckers, they don't care about us…everyone is scared... the people they become like walking dead. If you did anything here, you need to go direct to jail... The law is against us the police is against us."

In July 2018, an Australian coroner had ruled that the death of an Iranian asylum seeker from an infection contracted on Manus Island was preventable. The report identified a multitude of bureaucratic bungles and healthcare inadequacies.

Hamid Khazaei, who was 24, died when his life support was switched off at a Brisbane Hospital in September 2014, twelve days after he had gone to a clinic at the detention centre with a simple infection in his leg.

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, Australia’s policy of detaining and processing refugees on Manus Island has resulted in the systematic violation of the rights of hundreds of individuals. More than 800 refugees and asylum-seekers have been detained on the island since 2013. The refugees have been effectively forced to choose between returning to repression in their home countries or moving to a similarly abusive environment.


Minister threatens one-month ban of Facebook

On 29th May 2018, the Post-Courier news outlet reported comments by Communications Minister Sam Basil about the possible imposition of a month-long ban on Facebook. This partial internet shutdown, according to Basil, would allow the government to conduct research on the use of anonymous accounts to spread fake news, pornography, and misleading information.

On 4th June 2018, the Media Council of Papua New Guinea, in a statement, criticised the decision saying:

“[We] feel that any attempt to censor, curb, or restrict our people’s protected right to freedom of expression in any form, is an attack against our freedom as the media.”

Lawrence Stephens, the chairman of Transparency International Papua New Guinea, said a temporary ban of Facebook would be a draconian move.  He said, "to talk about stopping this for a month whilst someone, somewhere does an analysis of what we should be able to see sounds pretty authoritarian and pretty worrying".

Opposition members of parliament accused the ruling party of trying to stifle public criticism against the government in relation to corruption.

The Minister later claimed that the Post-Courier report was misleading. He argued that the temporary ban was one option among many being considered by the government to address what he had described as an abuse of the platform. The Post-Courier however defended its story, stating that the Minister’s quotes were reported accurately.

According to reports, growing distrust of local media including allegations of bias and a lack of critical reporting on government issues, has pushed many users in Papua New Guinea towards social media, where information leaks and critical viewpoints are shared. Statistics show that only about 12 percent of the Papua New Guinea population are internet users, and the number of Facebook users is likely smaller still. However, Facebook plays a major role in information sharing in Papua New Guinea and a ban would restrict this.