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Indonesia blocks media to gag Papuan voices

Jakarta (UCAN): Indonesia continues to restrict foreign media access to the Christian-majority provinces of Papua and West Papua, despite assurances from the president, Joko Widodo, that reporters would have unimpeded access to the region.

Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director, Phelim Kine, said that elements of the Indonesian government have failed to deliver on Widodo’s promise to open Papua to foreign reporters.

A report released by the New York-based human rights watchdog on November 11 contains interviews with 107 journalists, editors, publishers and representatives of domestic and international non-government organisations.

Kine said, “There are elements within the Indonesian government and security forces that are intrinsically hostile to the concept of free media access to Papua. This is an ongoing problem. There is no clear process.” 

He noted that Widodo has prioritised development in Papua as a way to provide stability and to appease local dissatisfaction with the government.

Kine added that the government has acknowledged that open access to information is key to Papua’s development.

“But what’s clear is that they are unwilling or hesitate or suspicious about what opening to the media might bring in terms of having some influence on the separatist movement in Papua,” he explained.

Father Neles Tebay, the coordinator of the Papua Peace Network, said that harassment of journalists in Papua is common.

He said, “Indonesian journalists in Papua—both the Papuans and those coming from other regions—often face cruel treatment if they write something that annoys the government.” In addition, he said that Indonesian journalists are “extremely vulnerable to intimidation, harassment and violence” by the government, security forces and pro-independence groups.

Nevertheless, Father Tebay said that the people in Papua have other avenues to distribute information.

“Whatever happens in Papua, they can be distributed through social media. So there’s nothing that can be hidden in Papua. The Internet is already here. It can’t be blocked,” he said.

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch, said foreign journalists are routinely hassled when applying for visas, noting that a British journalist applied five months ago for access to the region and still hasn’t heard back from Indonesian authorities.

Harsono called on Widodo to formally lift restrictions on foreign media access to Papua and direct all government and security officials to immediately comply with the order. 


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