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Opinion: Why is West Papua closed to foreign journalists?

15 May, 2013

Earlier this year I had a meeting with a friend who is a foreign journalist in Jakarta. During our conversation which lasted almost an hour, I asked him. ‘When are you planning to visit Papua to get information directly from there?’ My friend said: ‘We are not permitted by the Indonesian government to visit Papua. I have made several requests to visit Papua but the government has turned down all my requests.’ So I asked him: ‘Why are they not allowing you to visit Papua’ to which he replied: ‘The Indonesian government always says that it is not possible to guarantee the safety of foreign journalists in Papua. The OPM could kidnap or kill them.’

On hearing this, I burst out laughing which surprised my friend who asked me why I was laughing. I said because what government says is very strange; there is no justification for them to say such a thing.

This was not the first time I had heard this from journalists. Every foreign journalist has told me the same thing. My response has always been: ‘Isn’t it because they have something to hide. What is the Indonesian government doing to the Papuan people?’

If foreign journalists are not allowed to visit Papua, it must surely mean that the government has something to hide. If the Indonesian government has been helping the Papuan people to make progress in the past fifty years, then surely foreign journalists would be allowed to go there so as to be able to report on progress there with regard to education, health, the economy, culture and all aspects of life and make this information available to the international community.

One thing is certain. Papuans are not kidnappers, they are not murderers. Papuans want peace and have always respected other human beings throughout the ages. Long before the Indonesian government occupied and colonised Papua as a result of the New York Agreement on 15 August 1962, when administration of the territory was handed over by the United Nations to Indonesia on 1 May 1963 and the fraudulent Act of Free Choice took place in 1969. Ever since 5 February 1855, foreigners, white people from Europe have been coming to Papua as missionaries or evangelists. I would also mention Gotlob Geisler and Carl William Ottow and other foreigners who have visited Papua since 1855, that is to say 107 years before the Indonesian government annexed Papua in 1962. These foreigners stayed there with the indigenous Papuan people.

Johann Gotlob and Carl William Ottow arrived in Papua on Sunday, 5 February 1855. They landed in the Gulf of Doreh Mansiman, Manokwari. The moment they set foot here, they declared: ‘In the name of our lord, Jesus Christ, we set foot in this land!’ These two men brought us the Bible of Jesus Christ.

5 February 1855 is an historic day, a day full of holiness, bringing good news. It was the Bible, the holy word, which freed people from their sins and freed them from oppression and colonialism. The Bible respects the basic rights of mankind, recognises the dignity of the person. No more crying, no more bloodshed, an end to discrimination and exploitation of ordinary men and women because they have been freed from repression. The Bible of Jesus Christ is the holy book which belongs to all humanity, to the people of all ethnicities, to all nations.

When the two German missionaries arrived in the Land of Papua, they met the people, befriended them, stayed there, respected the people and recognised their right to life, their dignity and treated the people of Papua as equals. They never did anything to harm the Papuan people, either physically or mentally. Gotlob and Geissler were true, loyal friends of the Papuan people, in good times and bad times. There were no differences, no barriers. They brought love, justice and equality which flowed from the Cross which they brought.

The Indonesian government’s decision to refuse to allow foreign journalists to visit Papua is in sharp contrast with the mission of the Church and the heartfelt beliefs of the Papuan people. This refusal is an integral part of the government’s policy. It is a reflection of ‘Generative Politics’ about which Mr Nugroho wrote in The Jakarta Post on 10 June 2012. According to Mr Nugroho, Generative Politics is a political stance which has paralyzed, damaged and made the conditions of the Papuan people much worse. This has been the political approach of the Indonesian government for the last fifty years. The Indonesian government has refused to allow foreign journalists to visit Papua because they have to hide these ghastly facts, the widespread poverty in Papua and the many years of brutality to which the Papuan people have been subjected.

A lengthy struggle will be needed to change government policy which has been implemented for the last five decades. Almost 330 years ago, in 1780, William Wilberforce, a member of the English parliament, waged a 20-year struggle to end slavery. As an old man, he said: ‘I realise that changing public opinion is not as easy as clapping your hands; it takes decades to achieve things. You also need patience and total commitment to achieve lasting justice, reform and final victory.

In his struggle for justice, Wilberforce also expressed the following beautiful ideas: (1) Christianity is the key to justice and well-being for a people. (2) The only people who can be trusted to struggle for peace and the nation’s well-being are those who have expressed remorse for their sins. (3) The only hope for a nation is its Christianity. I will accept no ideology that conflicts with the teachings of Christ. (4) If a nation only thinks about physical and cerebral things, they will lose their spirituality. (5) Every tyrannical action that is perpetrated in order to reinforce stability can only lead to the perpetuation of repression. (6) The commandments I have received from God have convinced me that the search for justice must be based on fear of the Almighty which does lead to anarchy and that history has shown that He is right. (7) I should at all times remember that it is my responsibility until my dying day not just to meditate but also to act. (8) The thing that has inspired me is an understanding of the existence of humanity. This is based on the opening words in the Book of Genesis which states that mankind was created in the image of the Almighty [Genesis 1:26-28].

It may very well be that the government’s decision to refuse to allow foreign journalists to visit Papua is because of recent incidents such as the hostage-taking incident in Mapenduma in 1996, the taking of a Belgian as a hostage in June 2001 and his release in August of that year, or the occasion when shots were fired at a German, Pieper Dietmar Helmut at Base G Coast on 29 May 2012 which was alleged to have been committed by an ‘an unidentified person’ (OTK). And there are a number of questions that need to be asked about the acts of violence and crimes against humanity which have occurred during the 50 years of Indonesia’s occupation of Papua.  (1) Were these actions perpetrated by a Papuan? (2) And if so, who masterminded these incidents? And who benefitted from these acts of violence?

During a conversation I had in August 2013 with General Maruf, Deputy Head of BIN, the State Intelligence Agency, I said: ‘Mr Maruf, there are many groups in Papua which have been organised by the OPM. Does anyone believe that there are sewing-machines in Papua to make Morning Star Flags? Is there a shop in the forest where it is possible to buy cloth to make Morning Star Flags? How is it possible for the OPM to get hold of so many weapons and so much ammunition? Every airport and entry point into Papua, by land, air or sea, is tightly guarded and every single thing that enters Papua is carefully examined by Indonesian security officials.’ In response, Mr Maruf said: ‘Only now do I realise there are groups in Papua which have been organised by the OPM.’

It should now be crystal clear to the reader that the kidnappings and shootings that have occurred in Papua were not committed by the genuine OPM but by a specially controlled OPM. Some readers may have read my book: Annihilation of Ethic Melanesians: Breaking the Silence about the History of Violence in West Papua (Permusnahan Etnis Melanesia: Memecah Kebisuan Sejarah Kekerasan di Papua Barat) 2007, which has been banned by the Indonesian government, by virtue of a decision of the Attorney-General. On pages 225-256, I wrote briefly about the genuine OPM and an OPM which was created by the Indonesia military and police. The violence and crimes against humanity have been used to stigmatise Papuans as separatists and are alleged to be acts of treason perpetrated by the OPM in order to create a myth portraying Papua as a region of conflict and is inaccessible to foreigners. Papua is being used as a training ground for the armed forces to get promoted, to make lots of money, a place where more and more troops are sent to combat separatism. Ottow and Geissler never did anything to stigmatise Papuans as separatists, treacherous rebels, as OPM, primitive, ignorant, backward people, cannibals, stupid and under-developed.

An intelligence expert, AC Manulang, former Director of BAKIN. Badan Inteligen Negara Indonesia, the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency, recently acknowledged ‘It is not unlikely and may often have happened that disruptive activities in various places have been masterminded from Jakarta. It is highly likely that these disturbances have been designed in Jakarta for a number of reasons. It is not logical to believe that local police chiefs would not seek the help of influential local leaders to prevent local communities from becoming uncontrollable. Action has been taken to deal with SARA [an Indonesian acronym for Social, Religious and Ethnic Disputes], in places like Maluku or other regions in eastern Indonesia. There have also been disturbances in western parts of the country. According to information I have received, there have been disturbances in Ambon, Lampung, Poso as well as in Papua. These disturbances should be regarded as serving the interest of the elite in Jakarta.’ [Indopos, Sunday 4 November 2012.]

There are other questions that need to be raised: (1) Why is it that the OPM has never kidnapped foreign missionaries who have been living for years in the interior of Papua, in places that are remote from the cities? (2) Why has the OPM never kidnapped any of the many foreign tourists who visit Papua on their own or in groups? (3) Why is it that the OPM has never kidnapped transmigrants who now live in places close to the forests and far from  the  cities, in places like Sorong, Manokwari, Nabire, Merauke or Keerom-Arso?

It is deeply distressing that State violence continues to occur in our sacred Motherland. This means that the Indonesian government and the security forces have failed to turn the indigenous Papuan people into Indonesians. Papuans have already expressed their dismay about all this on a number of occasions: (a) the Eleven Recommendations of the Papuan People’s Assembly on 9-10 June 2010. (b) The Joint Statement of Church Leaders issued on 10 January 2011. (c) The Theological Declaration of Church Leaders on 26 January 2011. (d) The Prophetic Message of Papuan Church Leaders to the President of the Republic of Indonesia adopted in Cikeas, Jakarta on 16 December 2011.

The same concerns were acknowledged by a number of member states of the United Nations: The USA, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, South Korea, Japan, France, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Spain and Italy at a session of the UN Human Rights Council (UPR) on 23 May 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Bearing these facts in mind, it is the now widely believed that the Indonesian government and the Indonesian security forces are themselves part of all this violence and that this situation has been created and kept alive so as to legitimise continued acts of violence in the Land of Papua and to utilise these conditions as an excuse to reinforce the security forces. The reason why foreign journalists are refused access to Papua is clear for all to see. It means that they can know nothing about and cannot expose the terrible truth regarding the State violence being committed against humanity, the impoverishment and annihilation of the Papuan people that has been going on for the last fifty years.


The writer of this comment is the General Chairman of the Alliance of Baptist Churches. He is also the author of the following books:

Pemusnahan Etnis Melanesia: Memecah Kebisuan Kekerasan di Tanah Papua Barat. (See above)

 Suara Bagi Kaum Tak Bersuara. A Voice for the Voiceless.

 Integrasi Belum Selesai. Integration is Not Yet Complete.

West Papua, Persoalan Internasional. West Papua is an International Problem

Otonomi  Khusus Papua Telah Gagal. Special Autonomy for Papua Has Failed

Saya Bukan Bangsa Budak, I Am Not from a Nation of Slaves

Apakah Indonesia Menduduki dan Menjajah Bangsa Papua? Does Indonesia Occupy and Colonise the Papua People?