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Death penalty move expected in Papua New Guinea

Published: 1:05PM Tuesday May 14, 2013 Source: ONE News

Papua New Guinea's Justice Minister is expected to table legislation this week to apply the death penalty and introduce a raft of tougher sentences.

The country is grappling with a string of gruesome murders and increased violent offending.

ONE News Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver told TV ONE's Breakfast that sorcery in PNG is one of the reasons behind the planned legislation.

The Government is looking at repealing the Sorcery Act, 1970 for a start, she said.

"They've had a terrible raft of violence. And the Sorcery Act, 1970 means that someone can murder someone else and burn them to death, and under the Sorcery Act if they say 'Well, I thought they were a witch or a sorcerer', that gives them a defence in court."

Dreaver recalled recent cases where a 20-year-old mother of one died after being tortured and set alight in front of a big crowd, and another woman was beheaded in front of police.

"It's because of those types of cases which have come to the fore in recent months that the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea said, 'I know this is going to seem draconian to some people but we need to do something about this'."

While 97 countries around the world are against the death penalty, PNG will join countries like Japan, Pakistan and India which support it, Dreaver said.

PNG actually has the death penalty but it has not been enforced since 1954, she said.

"And so they're saying 'We're going to bring it in now and we believe that these tougher penalties will make a difference'," she said.

For rape, the penalty will be life imprisonment with no parole, and there will be "huge" penalties for other violence, Dreaver said. Sale of alcohol will be banned between the hours of 2am and midday.

The Prime Minister is even talking of setting up a prison on an island and sending the bad offenders to that island where there will be no one else around, she said.

There has been huge opposition to the death penalty plan, Dreaver said.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who was in PNG last week, said Australia was against the death penalty anywhere and PNG was no exception. But Gillard also said Australia would not tie its aid to PNG of nearly $A500 million to policy on the death penalty.

Amnesty International said the death penalty is "sanctioned violence" and that PNG needs to look at the problems underlying violence rather than introducing a death penalty.

Dreaver said hefty debate on the death penalty could be expected this week.

"Some of the opposition have come out and said they're against it as have some of the churches."

PNG's Justice Minister, who is also the Attorney-General, has been put in charge of the logistics of the legislation which is expected to be tabled in Parliament this week.

The proposal is for the death penalty to be carried out by hanging, but the Prime Minister had mentioned he wants it done by shooting, Dreaver said.