Papua New Guinea’s chief justice was last night in police custody and expected to face court today charged with sedition, local media reported.
Earlier, the nation’s deputy Police Commissioner Tom Eluh said Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia would be arrested after a tense stand-off with police and the army.
The stand-off began when deputy prime minister Belden Namah and about 10 police officers stormed into his court yesterday afternoon.
“I want you gone,” Namah shouted at the judge. “You are the most corrupt man in PNG.”
Sir Salamo left the courtroom and locked himself in his chambers.
Earlier in the week, Namah gave Sir Salamo and two other judges, Les Gavara-Nanu and Nicholas Kirriwom, 24 hours to resign after they found for the second time that political rival Sir Michael Somare was the nation’s constitutional prime minister.
Sir Salamo, who was locked in his office with his lawyer until his arrest last night, denied he was biased in his decision to rule against the 10-month-old government of Peter O’Neill.
“Under the constitution the Supreme Court was required to give its decision and it fell on each one of the five judges to give an opinion,” a visibly shaken Sir Salamo said.
He appealed to the police and military personnel to abide by his ruling. “This country is being run by men who are happy to use force rather than the rule of law,” he said.
O’Neill has said Sir Salamo’s decision was a deliberate attempt to disrupt the country’s election planned for June.
Outside the court house, Eluh said Sir Salamo would be “formally charged with sedition”.
The government has twice tried and failed to suspend Sir Salamo since last November, accusing him of bias against it. Police also arrested him on charges relating to his handling of court funds but the court put a permanent stay on those proceedings.
Prime minister Julia Gillard has told her Papua New Guinea counterpart, Peter O’Neill, parties should act with restraint, following the arrest of the chief justice.
A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said late last night the prime minister had spoken to O’Neill to express the Australian government’s concerns about the development.
“They agreed it was important that the current situation did not detract from the good progress being made toward PNG’s conduct of elections,” the spokeswoman said.
“The prime minister noted the importance of all parties exercising restraint.”