A month ago today, on 29 April 2015, TAPOL organised a demonstration outside the Indonesian Embassy in London, where dozens of demonstrations gathered to demand open access to Papua for international journalists, humanitarian agencies and human rights organisations. The demonstration sparked similar rallies in more than 20 cities across the world, including Jayapura, Wamena, Manokwari, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Sydney and Honiara, amongst others. In what is now known as the “Global Day of Action on Access to West Papua,” hundreds of protestors gathered in front of Indonesian embassies and in public places to demand an end to 50 years of isolation of Papua. Protestors wore black and carried ‘censored’ placards to protest the ongoing media blackout of Papua.
Following the demonstration in London, TAPOL issued a joint letter signed by 52 NGOs and parliamentarians, urging President Jokowi to remove restrictions on visits by foreign journalists, human rights observers and humanitarian organisations to Papua and to take steps to end violence and intimidation against journalists in Papua.
For more than 50 years, access for foreign journalists seeking to report on Papua has been severely restricted. Journalists have experienced deportation, arrest and even imprisonment. The decades-old ban saw international humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organisations pressured to close their field offices and leave Papua. The Global Day of Action was the first demonstration of its kind mobilising global solidarity against the veil of secrecy surrounding the region.
On 9 May, ten days after the Global Day of Action, President Jokowi granted clemency to five Papuan political prisoners. Jokowi released Apotnalogolik Lokobal, Numbungga Telenggen, Kimanus Wenda, Linus Hiluka and Jefrai Murib, who were serving prison terms ranging from 20 years to life for their alleged involvement in a raid in 2003 on an Indonesian military weapons arsenal in Wamena. All five men experienced torture and ill-treatment in detention, and as a result have suffered serious and long-term damage to their health.
A day after their releases, President Jokowi announced that foreign journalists were no longer restricted from entering and reporting on Papua. However, shortly after this announcement, Indonesian ministers were quick to issue contradictory statements. Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijanto and Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu issued clear statements to the media that foreign journalists seeking to visit Papua would still be subject to screening to obtain permits, just like before. In what seemed like nothing short of a thinly veiled threat, Ryamizard stated that journalists who wrote “good reports” would be supported, but those who did not could be “easily expel(led) if they are found committing sedition.”
While the mainstream media were quick to hail Jokowi’s moves as a breakthrough, they raise more questions than answers. Dozens of political prisoners in Papua and Maluku remain behind bars, while new arrests and cases of torture continue to be reported. According to Papuans Behind Bars, an online resource for political prisoners, in the last few weeks hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested for taking part in peaceful protests. It is clear that peaceful political expression in Papua continues to be criminialised. Furthermore, the involvement of the military in the drafting of new rules for international journalists is a serious cause of concern, given their record of human rights abuses in Papua.
Indonesia’s mixed messages spell an uncertain road ahead for Papua. If President Jokowi is serious about change, he needs to send a clear and consistent message. He should grant immediate presidential amnesty to all political prisoners in Papua, while those still facing legal process should have their charges abolished. Indonesia should also issue an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Mr David Kaye to visit Papua, as was pledged during the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2012. While Jokowi’s initial moves are steps in the right direction, they must be followed with concrete policies to end the criminalization of free speech.