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Second Papua New Guinea judge arrested on sedition charges

Police in Papua New Guinea on Monday arrested and charged Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Kirriwoma with sedition. Kirriwoma is the second Supreme Court justice that has been arrested for Sedition this month. Last week, police stormed the country's Supreme Court and arrested Chief Justice Salamo Injia [JURIST report] on similar charges. Both judges were part of the three-judge panel that ruled in May for the second time that former prime minister Michael Somare should be reinstated. There has been a struggle for power since last August when Prime Minister Peter O'Neill took office after Somare was ruled ineligible because of an extended absence due to illness. The Supreme Court ruled in December that Somare should be reinstated and ruled again last week that Somare should serve as caretaker prime minister during upcoming elections. O'Neill has refused to accept the court's rulings, creating a standoff with the judiciary. Kirriwoma has been released on bail [AFP report] pending a trial.

Last month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] about threats to rule of law [press release] in Papua New Guinea. Pillay's concerns stemmed from actions taken by the government that she believed breach international human rights standards and adversely affect the judiciary and its ability to act independently. Pillay said the actions of both the legislature and the executive have curtailed the power of the judiciary and it can no longer function independently. In March, the Parliament passed a bill to refer judges to a system for dealing with misconduct. When the Supreme Court held that such a system was unconstitutional the legislature passed another law creating criminal sanctions [amendment text] against anyone who would not comply with the first law.

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