JOE WAS ACCUSED AND CHARGED with raping a young girl. Joe (not his real name), old enough to be the girl’s father, had promised K1,500 as bride price and had talked big about starting a cattle project in a joint venture with the young girl’s father.
Instead of making payment upfront or producing any cattle, Joe foolishly took the young girl to his village - where she moved about freely as his ‘wife’ for two weeks before the police acting on the unpaid father’s complaint turned up to arrest him for rape.
Joe was still imprisoned, as a remandee (weit kot – awaiting court), at Boram prison in Wewak three years later awaiting trial on the main charge of rape.
Fortunately for Joe, his long wait for justice was about to come to an end after a good State defender took on his case. The Police prosecutor dropped the charge of rape and also the charge of ‘carnal knowledge with a minor’ because of the lack of evidence and proceeded to prosecute Joe for ‘obtaining sex by false pretence’.
Finally, the Judge dismissed the case. “Hooray, hooray, I’m free, I’m free,” Joe yelled in joy, punching the air with his fist.
He vowed to sue the State for false imprisonment but never did – just like an unknown number of wrongfully imprisoned people before him.
The whole case was a miscarriage of justice because there was never enough evidence to charge and remand Joe in the first place under the criminal code. It was more or less a civil matter.
It could have been much worse for Joe. Boram CIS is located near the beach in Wewak with the sound of the surf and the constant sea breeze. It’s a holiday camp compared to other urban prisons such as Bomana near Port Moresby - where high profile prisoner Dr Theo Yasause was remanded in 2011 without bail for approximately one year before being sentenced in 2012 to 30 years for murder.
This despite the glaring fact that the murder weapon was never found to irrevocably link Theo Yasause to the murder he was accused and found guilty of committing. And despite the fact that he had high standing in society with impeccable educational qualifications and vast experience, such as serving as then prime minister Sir Michael Somare’s Chief of Staff (2007-2009).
Theo Yasause’s application for bail was denied even though he was a law abiding citizen with no previous conviction.
So Theo Yasause became another statistic adding to the high ratio of remandees awaiting their court appearance and forced to fight for justice from behind bars. Theo Yasause is still fighting for justice to overturn his conviction for a crime he maintains he never committed.
The Governor of Oro Province, Gary Juffa MP, after a recent visit to Bomana prison to see a relative the Governor believes was wrongfully convicted of crimes he never committed, said: “If we are to practice humanity in its truest form, we must always give our love to those who need it most. God bless all those who are wrongfully convicted.”
Governor Juffa also described his relative as someone as “all he ever did was serve his country without fear or favour”.
For various reasons the prison system in Papua New Guinea has become plagued by mass-breakouts. At least 230 inmates – many of them described as dangerous hard core criminals - have escaped from prisons around PNG since 2009.
The number of escapees would have been much higher if almost 500 hungry prisoners, who had not eaten for two days due to a food supply dispute, were not prevented by alert warders from breaking out of Baisu jail near Mount Hagen in Western Highlands Province in 2009.
Not too many prison escapees have reportedly been recaptured - although some were shot dead by police.
“It’s safe to say that many of the jail break-outs are organised by and done by remandees due to their court processes not being processed and disposed of in a timely manner”, advised Theo Yasause.
The Minister for Correctional Services, Wewak Open MP Jim Simatab, told parliament earlier this year that in 2013 alone ‘more than 96 prisoners had broken out of prisons throughout PNG.
The high level of escapes around the country - amidst claims of mismanagement and corruption within the prison system and the increase in horrific crimes in PNG - prompted prime minister Peter O’Neill to advise in May that the country’s first isolated maximum security prison’ will be built on Manus and managed through a private arrangement.
The government used its numerical strength to amend the criminal code to make rape and aggravated robbery punishable by death.
The good news for the government and the private sector in Port Moresby is that Theo Yasause - as chairman of the Peace Committee at Bomana - recently helped organise a Peace Ceremony at the prison in which gifts were exchanged by inmates representing different regional factions.
This followed several fights over a number of years between inmates representing the Highlands and Southern regions. Conflict between the factions flared up again after inmates from Momase and NGI were brought in most recently with the involvement of William Nanua Kapris.
Notorious prisoner William Nanua Kapris who escaped again from Bomana for the second time with two other hard core criminals after an inmate was stabbed to death, was recently shot dead whilst on the run.
While Kapris’s death struck a strong chord of public sympathy, his ‘organised’ escape made life hard at the prison. Many prisoners were not considered for parole classification and planned welfare and rehabilitation programs were put on hold.
Prisoners at Bomana ‘desirous to contribute toward the promotion of enduring peace and reconciliation between parties to bring about stability and peace’ conducted a Peace Ceremony following which a Peace Agreement was signed by Jail Commander Kiddy Keko, Welfare and Rehabilitation Manager Frank Ito and by prison leaders representing the different regions in PNG - Southern Region, Highlands, Momase and NG Islands.
The parties to the Peace Agreement recognised ‘the need for a comprehensive settlement of peace to bring an end to the conflict that existed within the prison’ and affirmed their ‘commitment to agreed basic principles which calls for individuals to portray a spirit of brotherhood, loving kindness, and overall spirit of love and forgiveness as set out in the Word of God the Bible - as in love others as you love yourself’.
Importantly, the inmates also gave ‘assurances to the management that there shall be no prison break-out and escape from the prison premises’ and the Correctional Services officers agreed ‘to conduct themselves ethically when dealing with prisoners’.
“You all must be thankful to be here and take the opportunity to reflect on your past life. You all must thank God to be in prison otherwise you would have been killed by the law enforcement agency”, Opposition Leader and self-made successful logging millionaire Belden Namah, who had served time in Bomana for sedition over his role in the Sandline Affair, told inmates after he paid a surprise visit to Bomana in December 2011 to celebrate his 42nd birthday. During his visit he donated K25, 000 to the prison staff and K20,000 to the prisoners.
More recently, in April this year, the Belden Namah advocated the implementation of the death penalty as ‘an effective tool the government of Papua New Guinea must adopt immediately’.
“The introduction of the death penalty will deter payback and tribal fighting in the country”, he said in his official media release.
The Opposition Leader also expressed grave concern when he said: “It is also alarming to note the annual increase of inmates at Correctional Services facilities is continuing to soar at unprecedented levels placing a huge burden in maintaining facilities throughout the country.”
There are currently at least five serving Members of Parliament who have been convicted prisoners. One of them is the most famous parliamentarian of them all - but we’ll keep that under wraps for a while longer.
Only one of the five – Belden Namah - is believed to have contributed financially from his own pocket to the prison system. Perhaps other MP’s will spare a thought for inmates this Christmas and contribute to the Peace Committee chaired by Dr Theo Yasause.
In the meantime, people can ponder on the fact that, without positive change and rehabilitation within the prison system, the vicious cycle of corruption becomes virtually unbreakable and will only grow worse.
This despite the death penalty provision in the criminal code for wilful murder which was reintroduced in 1991 after it was abolished in 1970. The death penalty in PNG - which has always been applicable for treason and piracy, and which now includes death for rape and aggravated robbery - has never been implemented for wilful murder since the last execution in the 1950s, although four Papua New Guinean men have been sentenced to death since 1995 by two non-Papua New Guinean judges.
Therefore the recent signing of the Bomana Peace Agreement is a significant event which should be supported by all politicians and members of the public concerned about escalating crime and endemic corruption which has become entrenched within PNG society.
As Opposition Leader Belden Namah also said: “How can you say that this year is the year of implementation when you cannot seriously address the serious law and order issues and come up with the best security policy model for the country? The citizens, investors and tourists must be protected at all costs.
“It is incumbent on the government of the day to give that insurance. Vision 2050 is only a dream if a paradigm shift on how we think, act and speak is not achieved. Papua New Guinea needs to seriously rethink its security policy model for the country and opt to fix the underlying cause and not just reacting to the symptom.”
Perhaps the political will to really change PNG for the better is simply lacking State sanctioned public executioners who perhaps would be best recruited from the prison system.