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Indonesian Press Council fails to classified Press Freedom in West Papua as a ‘domestic affair’



Students and activists hold a protest during WPFD 2017 in Jakarta – Supplied

By Veronica Koman

THE need for press freedom in West Papua has never been more urgent: surging numbers at demonstrations over the past year have been met with thousands of unlawful arrests of peaceful protesters. During this crisis, Jakarta has acted to censor West Papua media outlets, intimidate local journalists, and bar foreign reporters from the region.

The irony of Indonesia hosting World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) 2017 has been noted by the Guardian and other media. As if on cue, just as the press freedom event began in Jakarta on 1 May a West Papuan journalist, Yance Wenda, was arrested and beaten by police while covering unlawful mass arrests at a discussion and prayer event in Jayapura.

There have been at least 65 cases of violence against local West Papuan journalists in the last five years, yet no perpetrators have ever been brought to justice. Indigenous West Papuan journalists face discrimination from officials when reporting, and are stigmatised as being part of the pro-independence movement. A couple of recent examples: on 8 October 2015, Abeth You of Tabloid Jubi was covering a demonstration in Jayapura when police bundled him into a truck then forced him to delete his footage at gunpoint. Abdel Gamel Naser of the Cenderawasih Post and Julian Howay of Suara Papua were also prevented from taking pictures of the same demonstration. On 1 May 2016, Ardi Bayage of Suara Papua was arrested while covering mass arrests in Jayapura. Police took his mobile phone and press ID, threw them to the ground and stamped on them until they were destroyed. He was forced to take off his shirt, ordered to join 2,108 other arrestees in the police headquarters field and interrogated, during which time he was struck several times in the face.

Bribery and intimidation of journalists and their editors is also employed to ensure reports of human rights abuses are spiked before publication. The Sorong chief of police has freely admitted that he summoned local journalists to his office to demand they not report the arrests of 106 activists in the city by his officers on 19 November 2016.

West Papua has been off limits for foreign journalists since Indonesia took over control following a widely-criticised sham referendum in 1969. In recognition of international criticism, during his first year in office President Joko Widodo pledged that foreign journalists would be allowed to travel and report freely in West Papua. Yet just a few months later, Cyril Payen of France 24 was declared persona non grata and banned from returning to report in Indonesia after his ‘Forgotten War of the Papuas’ documentary broadcast on 18 October 2015. The French ambassador was also summoned over the broadcast to the Indonesian foreign ministry. Two years later, press freedom remains severely curtailed. Foreign journalists have faced long bureaucracy, obstruction, jail or deportation and their local fixers have received threats of violence when trying to document violations by Indonesian security forces.

Censorship is also in place: an officially verified online publication, Suara Papua (the Voice of Papua) was blocked last November, and nine other websites relating to West Papua were blocked last month. This blackout of information both within and about West Papua stifles freedom of expression and allows state violence to flourish with impunity.

Concerned that this crisis would not be addressed during WPFD 2017, a coalition of Indonesian journalist and rights groups arranged an unofficial side event for the second day of the program, to raise awareness on the lack of press freedom in West Papua. As the side event began, over a dozen state intelligence officers arrived at Jakarta’s Century Park Hotel to order the event committee to halt the public discussion. When committee members refused to do so, police showed an objection letter signed by Yosep ‘Stanley’ Adi Prasetyo, head of Indonesia’s Press Council. The event went on regardless, but over the following days police continued their harassment by phoning and visiting committee member’s offices.

That the Indonesian Press Council chose to sidestep discussion of press freedom in West Papua at WPFD is especially disappointing, and shows its leader fails to understand that human rights and press freedom are guaranteed through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Stanley was quoted by the Jakarta Post as defending his move, dismissing the issue as a ‘domestic affair’. In fact, the annual WPFD event was established by the UN General Assembly in 1993 as a reminder to all member states to uphold press freedom. It celebrates and evaluates the implementation of fundamental principles of press freedom all over the world. This year, the event discussed specific infringements of press freedom in Turkey, Russia, China, Eritrea and elsewhere. Why should infringements in West Papua be classified as a ‘domestic affair’ whereas press freedom in other countries was freely examined in the course of WPFD 2017?

The Indonesian Press Council is an independent body given its mandate by Indonesia’s Law on the Press. It is not stipulated anywhere that the council must echo government policy. The Council’s ‘domestic affair’ argument, as pathetic as it is, should have been delivered by the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the president’s office. In this case, the head of press council has failed to uphold its mandate as an independent body in ensuring press freedom.

As the WPFD event closed on its third day, at least thirty West Papuans were unlawfully arrested in Timika, where the foreign-owned Freeport McMoran mine continues to escape direct scrutiny from international journalists for its environmental and human rights abuses. Shortly after, the Press Council chief joined a trip to cap off the WPFD event by visiting an illusion of paradise in the coral reefs of Raja Ampat, West Papua. But West Papua is far from a paradise for journalists, and by consciously shutting out this reality, this year’s WPFD has failed in its mission to advance the ‘media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies’. (*)

The author is a human rights lawyer focusing on West Papua, refugee, gender and sexual orientation issues. She is a co-founder of ‘Papua itu Kita’ and Civil Liberty Defenders


Indonesian military to complete Trans-Papua Highway



Indonesian soldiers participate in a major military jungle warfare exercise in Poso, in central Sulawesi island, on March 31, 2015. -Photo: AFP

Papua, Jubi – Officials working on a troubled road project in Papua say Indonesia’s military will complete the job this year.

In December, at least 16 Indonesians working on the Trans-Papua Highway in Nduga province were massacred by fighters from the West Papua Liberation Army.

The project was put on hold with the military saying it would take over work on the 4000 kilometre highway.

Combat engineers will reportedly carry out the construction, with hundreds of extra security personnel deployed to the area.

Detik News reports a military battalion has been assigned to the building of the project’s remaining 16 bridges.

Indonesian army engineers had already been working on the Trans-Papua Highway project for a number of years.

Military involvement in the project was cited by the Liberation Army as a central reason for killing the road workers, who were suspected of being soldiers. (*)



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Indonesian soldier dead after attack at Papua airport



Members of the Indonesian Army in Papua. -Photo: AFP

Papua, Jubi – Indonesia’s military has evacuated the body of a soldier killed at an airport in Papua’s Highlands on Monday.

Xinhua reported that gunmen shot at an arriving aircraft carrying soldiers at Mapenduma airport of Nduga district, leaving one soldier dead.

Military spokesman Colonel Muhammad Aidi said when the plane was about to land, it was shot at, and soldiers who were guarding the airport shot back, triggering gunfire exchange.

He said the gunmen retreated and escaped to the forest and the plane landed.

Tempo reported that two soldiers were shot, and hospitalised, with one dying later.

The soldier’s body has been evacuated to Papua’s provincial capital Jayapura,

He is the latest apparent victim in the Highlands conflict between guerilla forces of the West Papua Liberation Army and Indonesian security forces that intensified last year. (*)



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A sad story of education from Papuan outreached and border areas



Pupils at schools in outreached Papua. – Jubi/Dok

Jayapura, Jubi – Education, in Papua today is still a sad story since many schools in outreached or border areas have to struggle to continue their activities even without adequate support from the government.

An educational activist Agustinus Kadepa said the education in Papua, especially in the border and outreached areas, is a complex issue, from the lack of teachers’ attendance to lack of teaching facilities that hampers the learning activities at school.

“This is complicated. Furthermore, we know that a good and qualified educational education could exist when it gains support from many aspects, namely the economy, educational facilities, public awareness of education and so on. Therefore, I think these factors have made many teachers prefer to live in town rather than in those remote areas,” said Kadepa on Thursday (24/1/2019).

Another factor is when teachers apply for the position of civil servants. It has an indirect impact on the number of teachers staying at schools, especially in remote areas. Because most of those teachers would accept the new position as a civil servant and choose to live in town rather than continue teaching in remote areas.

Meanwhile, this problem also considered by the village chief of Kampung Moso, Muara Tami Sub-district of Jayapura Municipality, Agus Watapoa. He said that all the time the primary schools of the Indonesian and PNG border have not a sufficient number of teachers. Therefore, the children are neglected and cannot study at school.

“Teachers who teach in this school village come late to school, at 10 in the morning. So this school is not well running. It’s still open but just not running very well because we only have two classes with a roof,” he said. (*)

Reporter: Agus Pabika

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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