Pacific media freedom 2011: WEST PAPUA


West Papua
(comprising the provinces of Papua and West Papua)
Population: 741,841
Form of government: Province of Indonesia
Languages: Bahasa Indonesia (official)
Internet: Unlisted
Adult literacy rate: 75 percent, including transmigrants from Indonesia.

This distorts the overall figure and in some regencies in the Highlands, the literacy rate is as low as 40 percent. Fewer than 56 percent of all people have
completed lower primary schooling.


The Indonesian-occupied colony of West Papua is subject to onerous restrictions on press freedom, and repeated cases of direct interference by security forces have been strongly evident in the reportage of the many and complex issues facing the Papuans today. International human rights observers, non-governmental organisations and journalists are severely restricted in their work in Papua amid ongoing reports of serious human rights violations by the police and military.

Jakarta still upholds its prohibition on all foreign journalists and media workers from entering either province in West Papua, unless pre-approved under a slow and bureaucratic process from the Ministry of Information. Even after approval, journalists are always accompanied by a minder from the Badan Intelijen Nasional (National Intelligence Body). Only three foreign journalists have been allowed access to West Papua in 2011. Unsurprisingly, few journalists choose this official route, with many opting to travel into West Papua via unofficial means, a process unavailable to Jakarta-based correspondents under threat of immediate expulsion. Human rights workers regularly report that security forces harass and intimidate those seen talking to foreign journalists, though many still take the risk when a foreign journalist is present.

Until late July 2011, the Indonesian Attorney-General had enforced a ban on all books and publications that discussed Papuan aspirations for independence or advocated peaceful pathways for ending violence in Papua. Under the Sukarno-era 1963 Law on Monitoring Printed Materials with Content that Could Endanger Public Order and the 2004 AGO Law, books by Sofyan Yoman, Benny Giay and others had been denied publication, and their sale or display prohibited. The law was deemed by judicial review as being unconstitutional under the 1945 Indonesian Constitution, which grants freedom for all citizens to ‘express their thoughts through verbal and written media’. In practice, even unbanned books have been seized by security forces, but in early August, journalists reported to West Papua Media that thousands of copies of books were replacing betel nut as the main commodity in informal markets. On August 15, the chair of the Dewan Adat Papua, Forkorus Yaboisembut, launched a book challenging the Indonesian government’s annexation of Papua, with no seizure of this book evident at time of writing.

Recent leaked Kopassus (Indonesian Special Forces) documents have demonstrated the pervasiveness of Indonesian security force surveillance into every aspect of Papuan daily life, and media workers are especially under suspicion by Jakarta and the military for supporting separatism simply by reporting on events that concern Papuan people. Both military and ‘civilian’ intelligence agencies regularly accuse prominent Papuan journalists and media contributors as being both pro-independence and subversive. Several journalists were named in the Anatomy of Papuan Separatists report prepared by Kopassus, and analysed by the West Papua Project at Sydney University (West Papua Project, 2011).

Threats and actual violence against journalists are commonplace in Papua and have been increasing as the civil resistance movement against Indonesian rule has been intensifying. During several mass mobilisations over the past 12 months, security forces have detained journalists from Bintang Papua and other independent media outlets, and reports of militia harassment and threats from the Kopassus backed have also increased. Regular SMS and voicemail harassment messages and death threats have been sent to journalists and human rights workers with a significant escalation in threatening behaviour from military sources since March 2011.

Government or military-controlled media is dominant in Papua, with content being predominantly Java-centric, albeit with some attempts at providing some ethnic Papuan flavour with channels such as Metro Papua TV. However, Papuan and Indonesian journalists alike must contend with the presence of Indonesian intelligence officers sitting in their newsrooms, and regularly either editing their articles, or directly publishing misinformation and propaganda. Several Papuan journalists working for larger outlets have reported to West Papua Media that the behaviour of ‘Intel Inside’ means they are unable to gain the trust of their sources, which prevents them from doing their job.

Several indigenous independent media organisations have grown throughout 2011, such as Tabloid Jubi and some attempts at beginning indigenous Papuan TV stations, mainly focused on environmental and community issues. However, in Tabloid Jubi’s case especially, journalists and editors must regularly contend with the danger of security force intimidation. The murder of journalist Ardiansyah Matrai’is, who was working with Merauke TV and Jubi, is still unsolved. On 30 July 2010, Matra’is’s naked, handcuffed body was found in the River Gudang Arand with his arm tied to a tree to prevent his body from floating downstream, and showing signs of torture, according to his autopsy. (Two environmental reporters found dead, IFEX, 11 August 2010; Shanahan, 2010). However, the police concluded he ‘committed suicide’ (How was investigative reporter pushed to kill himself?, RSF, 6 August 2010). Matra’is had been covering plans for the Merauke Integrated Food and Fuel Estate, had received threatening text messages similar to those sent to at least three other local journalists, news reports said. The news website Kompas translated one threat as saying: ‘To cowardly journalists, never play with fire if you don’t want to be burned. If you still want to make a living on this land, don’t do weird things. We have data on all of you and be prepared for death.’ Police have still refused to investigate his death any further, and the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AIJ) has taken industrial action on several occasions to advocate for media safety in Papua.

On 24 August 2010, Musa Kondorura, a contributor to Kantor Berita Radio (KBR) 68H in Wasior Sub-district, Teluk Wondama District, West Papua Province, was attacked by two men, Luki and Hendra, who claimed to be members of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).

Banjir Ambarita, a journalist with the Jakarta Globe and Bintang Papua, was stabbed in the chest and stomach by two assailants on a motorcycle on March 3 in Jayapura. The attack, widely believed to be by members of the police, happened after Ambarita wrote articles about two alleged rape cases involving the police (Brutal attack, Pacific Scoop, 27 March 2011). Police officers at Jayapura’s police detention centre allegedly forced detainees to perform oral sex on police officers from November 2010 to January 2010, and in Biak repeatedly raped and tortured a 15-year-old girl in February 2011. Ambarita’s reporting of these cases led to much embarrassment and the resignation of Jayapura Police Chief Adjunct Senior Commissioner Imam Setiawan on 1 March 2011. Unsurprisingly, the police have so far failed to identify the assailants.

In recent and ongoing military operations in Puncak Jaya—where thenotorious battalion 753 has been engaged in savage killings of unarmed civilians in reprisal for attacks by the armed resistance of the TPN (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional, or National Liberation Army)—the Indonesian government has closed off access to the Tingginambut district to both Indonesian and foreign human rights and media observers. Local activists have been forced to march for days across rugged terrain to deliver verified information. Local human rights observers and Papuan activists from the KNPB have independently reported to West Papua Media that TNI headquarters staff have threatened their safety if they alert journalists to abuses carried out by Indonesian security forces against West Papuan people.

The situation for journalists is not expected to improve in West Papua as long as the international community remains inactive on the issue of media safety and impunity for the security forces in media abuses.*


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