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Police brutality, gang culture and media in Papua New Guinea.
Police Brutality and the Media
The relationship of the police to suspects arrested or prisoners are sometimes very brutal in PNG. Police brutality has been going on for a long time in Papua New Guinea that it is seen as normal and is a widespread practice. Police brutality is the bashing, harassing, torture, swearing, damaging property and causing bodily harm to people.
Whether the person is innocent or not doesn’t matter. Anyone can become a victim of police brutality. Children are most vulnerable to police violence. According to the Human Rights report released in 2005, children are detained for months in horrifying conditions and are sometimes locked with the adults, putting them at risk of sexual and physical abuse from them. The most targeted groups of people are the students, from the primary up to the tertiary levels, the street vendors or any one that the police suspect to be doing anything that is illegal. Not to forget the people who are put in police custody. Women inmates are sometimes sexually harassed, raped and tortured. The homosexuals are also harassed by police thus driving them underground.
In July 21, 2011 the Post Courier ran a story titled ‘Torture rife in police cells’. Take the case of J.T, a 36 year old woman who was locked up in the Goroka police station. She complained that while in the jail, police officers would go into the women’s cell while they are sleeping, harass them and ask for sex. Women who are in the cell for petty crimes like shop lifting where asked to offer sex in exchange for their release. We have numerous letters to the newspapers’ editors about police violence and the police commissioners condemning this sort of behavior but still we see it going on.
Most of the stories that run in the news on police brutality occur in the urban areas, little coverage of it at the rural areas because of the remoteness, police presence is almost nonexistent and the police and the people know each other.
PNG’s Gang Culture
The gang culture in PNG is more than unemployed youths getting themselves involved in petty crimes or other illegal activities. Traditionally, when young men have reached their adolescent ages, they go through initiations, make their own gardens, kill their first pigs or have a broad knowledge of the ways of the ancestors before the community will consider them a someone who is able to look after his own family and can contribute during bride prices, funerals, births and such. In other words, it is the system of service barter, you help someone and when it is your turn, he will return the favour.
However, today it is about power and the status that someone has in a community. It has come to a stage that a bad reputation is a good one. If you are known to be tough or notorious in your community, you gain respect from them. In a typical PNG community, young men who grew up together fall into small groups according to where they live, this can be referred to as their territory and they look out for themselves. It is not always about criminal activities but the general day to day life like sharing beer and drugs, beating up the occasional drunkard who bothered their mothers and sisters or just hanging around in the neighborhood.
For example, a young man can grow up in a stable family unit, be highly educated and have a job but still his peers won’t accept him as part of the ‘in gang’ or in Tok Pisin ‘boi man’ meaning that he cannot be relied on to help his brothers or friends when they are in trouble. One day if he is robbed or have his property stolen or even his sisters raped, he cannot go to them for help. He can be compared to an elder guy who provides housing, food and even money to the youths from the street, he and his family will be protected from other gangs. A man who is well known is because of his involvement with the gang and has gain a general respect from the people who know him. So it is a choice of being part of a selected group of young men and being protected or to avoid any involvement with them and become their victim. It is all part of the traditional culture that has evolved and adapt to the modern developments and changes.
To conclude, the term criminal in Papua New Guinea does not only refer to the unemployed youths from the settlements and streets but can be anyone who is known to his community to be involved in a gang. It can be either a young man or an older educated man. And sometimes the media can be the voice of this people.