Global Day of Action for Access to West Papua unites protestors across 20 cities
Dozens of demonstrators dressed in black gathered outside the Indonesian Embassy in London today to lead the global protest against West Papua's 50-year long isolation. The demonstration was organised by TAPOL and Survival International, supported by Amnesty UK and the Free West Papua Campaign. The rally was one of 22 protests around the world calling for free and open access to Indonesia’s most secretive region. Since West Papua’s annexation in 1963, Indonesia has imposed a media blackout on the contested, resource-rich territory, allowing perpetrators of human rights violations to act with total impunity. West Papua is one of the world’s most isolated conflict spots. For decades, Indonesian security forces have brutally suppressed Papuan pro-independence movements.
The ‘Global Day of Action for Free and Open Access to Papua’ has sparked rallies in West Papua, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, Scotland, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Protests in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco are planned to take place later today. This global coordinated effort, the first of its kind, shows that worldwide solidarity for West Papua has reached unprecedented levels.
Esther Cann from TAPOL, a London-based NGO coordinating the rally said, “This is the first time we’ve seen anything like this level of support for West Papua. NGOs, parliamentarians and solidarity groups all around the world are telling Indonesia that human rights abuses in Papua can no longer be ignored. Papuan voices must be heard. In this age of information, it’s astounding that there are blackspot regions like West Papua.”
From the Solomon Islands to Scotland to San Francisco, hundreds of demonstrators from 22 cities in 10 different countries united to call for a free and open West Papua. Demonstrators wore black, representing the ongoing media blackout in West Papua. They gathered to demand that President Joko Widodo fulfill his presidential campaign promise of opening West Papua to international journalists, humanitarian and human rights organisations. A three-minute silence was observed to symbolize the silencing of the media in West Papua.
“President Jokowi himself has said that there is nothing to hide in Papua. So why is it still virtually impossible for journalists and NGOs to report on Papua? We know that serious human rights violations are happening in Papua, but we still have no idea of the scale of the killings and torture over the last 50 years,” said Cann.
“This global day of action is our way of telling the Indonesian government that the world is watching. Even though they’ve kept West Papua isolated for 50 years, the world has not forgotten. The truth must and will come out,” said human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who took part in the protest.
At the end of the demonstration, a joint letter to President Jokowi signed by 52 Papuan, Indonesian and international groups and parliamentarians was delivered to the Indonesian Embassy in London. The letter pointed out that ‘the media blackout denies the Papuan people the right to have their voices heard and allows human rights violations such as killings, torture and arbitrary arrests, to continue with impunity … The de-facto ban on foreign journalists, NGOs and humanitarian organisations contributes to the isolation of local journalists, and makes independent investigation and corroboration virtually impossible’. An Avaaz petition calling for media freedom in West Papua, launched by the Free West Papua Campaign and signed by over 47,000 people was delivered to President Jokowi by Papuan students in Jakarta today.
Reporters without Borders, a co-signatory to the joint letter, criticised Indonesia’s decline in media freedom. Benjamin Ismail, the Head of the Asia-Pacific Desk at Reporters without Borders said, “Indonesia’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has worsened dramatically in the last four years. In 2015, it ranked 138 out of 180 countries. This year’s position is mainly the result of the media blackout in West Papua orchestrated by the authorities.”
Access for UN human rights observers has been closed for eight years. In recent years, international humanitarian agencies and NGOs have been pressured to close their field offices and leave Papua. International journalists and NGOs seeking to visit and work in Papua are currently required to undergo a stringent visa application process involving the unanimous approval of 18 separate government agencies known as the Clearing House committee.
In October last year, two French journalists were sentenced to 11 weeks in detention under immigration charges because they had tried to report the Papua conflict. During a UN Human Rights Council event last month, Valentine Bourrat, one of the two journalists detained stated that “…keeping Papua closed to journalists means that the Indonesian authorities are hiding human rights violations. As journalists we cannot let a murderous silence prevail.”
Independent reporting by local and national journalists in Papua is dangerous and sometimes lethal. According to the Papuan branch of Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (Aliansi Jurnalis Independen, AJI), in 2014 there were 20 reported cases of violence and intimidation against journalists in Papua.
“Journalists must be able to work without intimidation, threats or restriction. We should be able to report independently and without fear for our security. Why is this not guaranteed to journalists in Papua? As Indonesian citizens, why are our rights not safeguarded?” said Oktovianus Pogau, a journalist with Suara Papua, a Papuan news site.
During his presidential campaign, President Jokowi publically stated that there was nothing to hide in Papua and promised to open the region. Yet six months into his presidency, Papua remains closed off to the international community. While President Jokowi has pledged his commitment to resolve past rights abuses, the execution of eight people for alleged drug trafficking offences less than 24 hours ago puts the future direction of Indonesia’s policy on human rights into serious question.