West Papua ‘Still Dangerous’ For Journalists: Media Watchdog -  May 12, 2015

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West Papua ‘Still Dangerous’ For Journalists: Media Watchdog President Jokowi’s supposed lifting of foreign media ban questioned

By West Papua Media

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (Pacific Scoop, May 12, 2015) – West Papua Media is greatly concerned that the statements made on Friday by Indonesian President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo in Jayapura regarding the ending of the foreign media ban for journalists to visit West Papua, is not being given due diligence by foreign media.

WPM reminds all foreign media workers that West Papua is and still remains an incredibly dangerous place for journalists to report, and present an even greater threat to the safety of all journalism sources.

A full analysis of the actuality of the so-called "lifting" of the foreign media ban in West Papua will be released by West Papua Media’s team in the coming days, including analysis from our clandestine journalists who operate daily in the reality of the Papuan media environment, under threat constantly from Indonesian security forces.

[PIR editor’s note: RNZI reported that ‘A West Papua journalist says although the Indonesian President Joko Widodo has promised West Papua will be open to foreign media, a cabinet minister is saying special permits are still needed. ... Victor Mambor is a journalist for Tabloid Jubi, and interviewed President Jokowi, who told him that the ban on foreign journalists would be lifted. ... Mr Mambor says after he spoke with President Jokowi he read an article quoting the the Minister of Internal Affairs, Tjahjo Kumolo, who said that foreign media will still need special permission.’]

This statement was made in the context of the president travelling the following day to Papua New Guinea in a bid to quash Melanesian support for West Papuan aspirations for self-determination, specifically the West Papuan bid to be granted observer status at the upcoming Melanesian Spearhead Group meetings.

Despite Jokowi’s graceful and well executed "Juru Bicara" (Straight Talking) image, the reality on the ground in West Papua is that he has little control over the actions of security forces.

In West Papua, journalists, media workers, fixers and sources are routinely denied access, harassed, surveilled physically and electronically, threatened, arrested, monstered, beaten, "disappeared" and even murdered by all the various organs of Indonesian colonial control in West Papua, with a list of perpetrators including (but not limited to) police, Australian-trained Detachment 88 anti-terror commandos, military, National Intelligence Body (BIN), military intelligence, police intelligence, Kopassus special forces, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, forestry officials, customs, immigration, mining officials, Indonesian bureaucrats, pro-Jakarta transmigrant militias, and the ever-present Ojek (motorbike taxi) riders / intelligence officers.

Lowest point

The media freedom status in West Papua reached its lowest point in 2011, due to a series of murders, stabbings and disappearances of journalists across West Papua This situation that prompted Reporters Without Borders to rank Indonesia at 146th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index, only climbing to 139th place for 2014, due to international monitoring led by West Papua Media and our network partners in West Papua.

This lifting of the foreign media ban is completely without power or credibility until both a formal Presidential Instruction is made, together with the passing of a national law that is enforced and penalises anyone who prevents free, full and unfettered access for ALL media workers in Papua.

Jokowi’s real attitude is telling, however. Just a few hours later in Merauke, he was quoted in Antara with his real attitude to "media freedom" in West Papua.

"Don’t ask that question, that’s enough," Antara quoted Jokowi saying when he was asked about a fact that usually foreign journalists prefer to cover activities of illegal armed groups.

Operating in West Papua for journalists will remain an extremely dangerous activity. Even though it is unlikely a foreign journalist will be physically harmed it is not unknown. Foreign journalists have been beaten, poisoned, interrogated, and some have died in highly suspicious circumstances in the past.

However, it is journalists’ sources that are most at risk, especially if communications and data are left unsecured. All journalists have an unbreakable ethical duty to ensure the safety of sources, and without specific technologies used.

Safe Witness

West Papua Media has a suite of digital and practical technologies developed from our Safe Witness Journalism training units, and we also can provide secure handsets for journalists travelling to West Papua.

West Papua Media also can provide an unparalleled secure fixing service that ensures foreign journalists are fully briefed to the security situation in all parts of Papua, and to be able to report without putting any sources at risk.

Last August, one person died, many went into hiding, and 5 were arrested due to unsecured data, notes, emails and phone calls allegedly held by the two French journalists arrested in Wamena in August, against the express guarantees on source security given to West Papua Media.

Only journalists can prevent their sources being put in danger. Make no mistake, Indonesian occupation forces will harm journalists’ sources and journalists seeking to report on human rights abuses and violations of freedom of expression.

We suggest all journalists seeking to report on Papua read our Source Protection Policy for more information, and contact us to arrange training for full data and communications security for mobile journalism.

WPM also offers the only civil resistance coverage media safety training available, which we can arrange for a reasonable cost.

However, WPM remains sceptical on the latest claims of lifting the foreign media ban. There have been too many previous claims that this will end, including several by Jokowi himself. Let’s wait and see how and if the security forces even listen to their president.

Minimum tests

There are some minimum tests that will prove if the media ban is lifted in Papua:

To reiterate, until these minimum conditions are guaranteed by an actual InPres (Presidential Instruction) in law, with penalties enforced for any official that prevents or ignores it, then this is just an utterance.

Clear undertaking

Nevertheless, Jokowi did say it, he was interviewed about it, and this was the statement that was made. Whether or not it is really enacted doesn’t take away from the fact that here is a clear undertaking.

Of course, letting in foreign journalists who don’t believe the hype, who are currently on charge or banned from West Papua by Indonesia will be the real test.

And making sure that the police and military answer critical questions when they kill civilians is part of that (including not hanging up on phone calls from WPM). It is highly unlikely that the State Violence Forces are going to suddenly stop tailing and harming journalists, human rights defenders and media workers, unless they are arrested for it.

WPM will still operate with great scepticism the alleged lifting of the foreign media ban in West Papua, and about anything Jakarta (or any government) ever says: that is the job of journalism.

WPM will still need to operate clandestinely, and we will still need support to train and supply people for safe witness journalism.

Now more than ever, West Papua Media needs you support to train and supply independent clandestine journalists with the tools to safely report from the ground in West Papua.

It costs $3000 to support one journalist with secure and robust equipment for mobile newsgathering, $3000 to provide intensive Safe Witness Journalism training. You can help by visiting this page to make a donation or longer term support.


This alleged end of the media ban is stage-managed and not at all genuine.

As far as we are concerned, the Papua Media Blackout remains firmly in place.

* West Papua Media and the Pacific Media Centre work in association and combined their resources to publish the Pacific Media Freedom 2011: A Status Report, the most comprehensive media freedom report produced in the South Pacific. It was published by both the Pacific Journalism Review research journal and the Pacific Journalism Monograph series.

Pacific Scoop All editorial and news content produced under the principles of Creative Commons. Permission to republish with attribution may be obtained from the Pacific Media Centre - pmc@aut.ac.nz

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