Political deportation of Kanak leaders sparks more protests in New Caledonia

The arrest and deportation of several prominent Kanak leaders have reignited widespread protests in New Caledonia

June 24, 2024 by Peoples Dispatch
Protest in New Caledonia continue after deportation of independence activists. Source: Kanaky Freedom/X

The wave of unrest that began in New Caledonia in May intensified again late on Sunday, June 23. Protests were sparked after several independence activists were transferred to France for trial. The activists were arrested on June 19 by French officials on charges related to fueling the mass mobilizations. Officials claim the transfer to France ensures a calm and objective legal process, but figures from the independence movement denounced it as political deportation.

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Among the deported activists are leaders from the Coordination Cell for Field Actions (CCAT), including leader Christian Tein and communications coordinator Brenda Wanabo. They were flown to France on Sunday, shocking their legal representatives, who criticized the extreme nature of the decision. The lawyers also expressed concern about the swift implementation of the decision, noting that similar transfers previously took a month or more to carry out. In this case, it appears that the planes were ready to take off with just a few hours’ notice, some of the lawyers pointed out.

Adding to concerns, the activists were distributed across different facilities in France, remaining scattered as they await trial.

Since the arrests on June 19 and news of the deportation, solidarity protests have been organized by groups in both New Caledonia and France. The Kanak Movement in France (Mouvement Kanak en France) and the collective Solidarité Kanaky condemned the deportation as reminiscent of France’s colonial practices in Kanaky. Similarly, leaders of the pro-independence party Caledonian Union (Union calédonienne) said the move was illustrative of “France’s colonial, repressive, and retrograde policy against the Kanak people.”

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Despite French President Emmanuel Macron freezing the electoral reform that sparked the unrest ahead of the general election, repressive actions like deporting political leaders are likely to prolong protests. Meanwhile, France is preparing for the first round of snap elections called by Macron after his liberal party’s defeat in the European Parliament elections. The far-right National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, are projected to win a significant vote share.