Human Rights Watch says Papua access remains poor
Watchdog group calls on Indonesia to follow through on commitment to improving access to the Papua region.
The NGO Human Rights Watch says Indonesia is continuing to obstruct access to the Papua region for journalists, aid organisations and academics.
The organisation has released a report in Jakarta called "Something to Hide? Indonesia's Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua."
Human Rights Watch's Asia deputy director, Phelim Kine says they welcomed announcement six months by President Joko Widodo that he was opening up access to foreign journalists but he told Don Wiseman the initiative has been very unevenly applied.
PHELIM KINE: There remains within elements of the Indonesian government and the Indonesian security forces severe resistance to allowing unrestricted access to foreign media.
DON WISEMAN: Why is it not happening?
PK: There are a couple of reasons for that. First there is a bureaucratic issue. President Widodo made this verbal announcement on May 10 but he has not followed up with a written explicit presidential directive that is made public and goes to all the relevant government ministries and to the security agencies instructing them of the rights of foreign media to now access Papua. So he has created this bureaucratic grey zone in which people don't feel that they are obligated to honour this verbal directive to open Papua. The other reason is it's a culture of not wanting foreign eyes in Papua. We are talking about a system of more than 25 years which has been designed to keep foreign media out and it's going to be a long-term process to bring those elements of the government and security agencies who have implemented these restrictions over more than a quarter of a century to stand down and to step back and to allow foreign media to actually have that unimpeded access that President Joko Widodo, which to his credit, has announced should be the case.
DW: This particular radio station of course has just had two journalists over there and they were given a degree of access for which we are grateful because it has not happened before so is it just a slower process than we might have expected?
PK: What we are seeing and what we are recording and documenting is that it is a very uneven, unpredictable, non-transparent process which results in a variety of outcomes for foreign media trying to get to Papua. We're delighted that Radio New Zealand was able to get to Papua after what we understand to have been an extremely, month-long onerous process in terms of the bureaucratic demands of getting access to Papua. What we are seeing is that the journalists who are trying to get access have different results and essentially the go-to that many bureaucrats, whether they are in foreign embassies or processing foreign journalists' applications to Papua or even within Jakarta to accredited foreign correspondents who are already here, there seems to be a reflexive, go-slow, delayed response to journalists seeking to go to Papua. I would add that even for those journalists who go to Papua, their ability to safely and predictably do reporting, knowing that their sources will be safe, is not guaranteed and I will give you an example. In October a French journalist living in Jakarta went to Papua and spent about a week there and interviewed some pro-Papuan independence activists, then went home. A week later these activists who had essentially been working for her as fixers were detained by the police for more than 10 hours in Papua, intensely interrogated and asked repeatedly, who was this journalist? What did she want? Who was she asking about? What was your role in facilitating her visit? What we see is this reflexive suspicion and this reflexive response by these security agencies to what should be a very mild, normal process in which foreign media report as they do anywhere.
DW: Within your report you've also looked at what happens to local journalists. The impacts on them of this long time repressive regime.
PK: And that's another very important part of the media freedom story on Papua, so it's not strictly an issue in which foreign media have been kept out for years but the situation for Indonesian journalists in Papua and particularly ethnic Papua journalists is really one of great concern. Our research indicates that Indonesian journalists in Papua are subject to harassment, intimidation and occasionally violence by the security agencies, by elements of the government and even by representatives of the pro-independence Papuan civil society for reporting on quote, unquote sensitive issues. Whether it's corruption or environmental degradation. To be an Indonesian journalist in Papua unfortunately leads very often to reflects of self-censorship because there are just so many red lines and grey lines that can have profound and dangerous implications for doing what we would consider to be fairly straight forward news reporting.
DW: So, Human Rights Watch wants to see what happen? What's the most important thing that you think is got to happen at this stage?
PK: The most important thing has happened already in a sense. The president has stood up and said it's unacceptable that foreign media cannot go to Papua. They can now go to Papua. But the devil is in the details and what we need from the president, we need to have this explicit, in black and white, presidential directive which shows to all relevant security agencies and ministries exactly what their obligations are to allow foreign media to go to Papua. Right now the absence of that document in a bureaucratic system provides wide wriggle room to not let people go to Papua. The second thing, and this is hugely important, is the government needs to lift its restrictions on access to Papua by international non-governmental organisations, UN experts and foreign academics. Why do we say that? For a resource-rich nation, Papua is probably the most resource-rich province and it's also a province that has the lowest human development indicators, the highest infant mortality, the lowest life expectancy. This is a place that could use the expertise and assistance and capacity of international organisations that know how to address these types of issues and the government is extremely reluctant to allow that to happen.
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