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IFJ concerned over announcement of new "monitoring" committee

(IFJ/IFEX) - February 23, 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) are gravely concerned by the Government of Papua New Guinea's (PNG) announcement of a new "monitoring" committee, tasked with identifying those expressing views it considers "subversive".

On Wednesday February 22, the O'Neill/Namah government's Chief of Staff, Ben Micah, emailed a press release announcing details of the new committee to local journalists, as well as posting the release on a PNG media page on the social networking website Facebook.

The release states that any person found using their mobile phone, email or Facebook to spread information considered "malicious and misleading" will be considered to have committed a serious crime and will be "dealt with".

The statement raises strong concerns for free speech and individual privacy rights, as it appears to criminalise the personal use of phones, email and social networking websites without a clear legal mandate. The statement also threatens unspecified punishment for those found to be using personal communications technology in a manner deemed "illegal and detrimental".

"Freedom of speech is a key requirement of good governance," the IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said. "Policies and laws which attempt to censor or punish those expressing themselves online, or via other communications technologies, violate this core principle of democracy.

"The IFJ believes that PNG's existing laws are sufficient to allow authorities to investigate legitimate acts of subversion, and urges the Government of PNG to reconsider any plans it may have for the monitoring and criminalisation of personal communications. The press and public should be able to express themselves freely without fear of intimidation or criminal prosecution."

PNG has seen a recent rise in threats of violence against journalists, including a recent incident where soldiers at the Murray Barracks in the country's capital of Port Moresby threatened to shoot PNGFM reporter Tauna George.

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