Protests and side event on press freedom in West Papua as Indonesia hosts 'World Press Freedom Day'

The Indonesian government together with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Indonesian Press Council (PWI) hosted the 24th annual celebration of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) at the Jakarta Convention Center JCC in Senayan from 1 to 4 May 2017. The WPFD is held to make an annual evaluation of global press freedom; to stand up for the independence of the press; and to pay tribute to those who have lost their life carrying their journalistic duties. The celebration with the slogan “Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s Role in Advancing Peaceful Just and Inclusive Societies” was attended by approximately 1.500 participants from 100 countries. In the run-up to the event, civil society organisations and journalists had protested against the WPFD in Indonesia, considering the restrictions on Press freedom in the country's easternmost provinces Papua and Papua Barat. The irony of Indonesia hosting the WPFD 2017 has inter alia been noted by the international newspaper Guardian.

In light of the media situation in West Papua, activists and students carried out a protest during outside the JCC main building (see picture on top). Moreover, a coalition of Indonesian journalist and CSOs arranged an unofficial side event at the Century Park Hotel in Jakarta on 2 May 2017 to raise awareness on the lack of press freedom in West Papua. Resource persons for the public discussion were Tabloid Jubi founder, Victor Mambor, the head of Indonesia Amnesty International, Usman Hamid, and director of the Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Media Centre, Professor David Robie (see picture on the left). Veronica Koman, a human rights lawyer and organizer of the side event, stated in an interview with the Jakarta Post that “Human rights abuses in Papua are related to press restrictions [in Papua]. We are trying to raise awareness [about press freedom in Papua] by inviting journalists and participants of World Press Freedom Day to the side event,” .

The protection and fulfillment of media freedom is an important component in realizing  ‘freedom of expression’ in West Papua. According to the Indonesian Association of Independent Journalists (AJI), the acts of violence and intimidation against journalists in the provinces of Papua and Papua Barat still frequently occur. AJI documented 63 cases of violence against journalists in West Papua between 2012 and 2016. Local journalists, particularly those of indigenous Papuan origin, are at high risk of becoming victims of intimidation, threat and arrest because security force members often stigmatize them as separatists during coverage of political related activities. The most recent assault on a Papuan journalist occurred on 1 May 2017, one day before the side event in Jayapura. A photographer for the local news outlet Tabloid Jubi named Yance Wenda, was allegedly arrested and beaten by police officers as he covered a political demonstration by the West Papua National Committee (KNPB).
 
Various Websites reporting human rights violations in West Papua are subjected to cencorship in Indonesia. After suarapapua.com was banned in 2016, the government has also blocked multiple websites including ampnews.org, infopapua.org, papuapost.com, freepapua.com, freewestpapua.org, bennywenda.org and ulmwp.org. Another issue which was discussed at the side event, were the ongoing restrictions for foreign journalists in West Papua. Throughout 2015 and 2016, authorities used various repressive strategies against foreign journalists including intimidation, bureaucratic obstruction and physical attacks to prevent journalists from covering politically sensitive events in or related to West Papua. This picture contradicts  President Joko Widodo’s  statement during his official speech on Indonesia's Independence Day on the 14 August 2015.

The side event was also attended by over a dozen state intelligence officers who tried to stop the event. When organizing committee members refused to halt the side event, police showed an objection letter signed by Yosep ‘Stanley’ Adi Prasetyo, head of Indonesia’s Press Council. The Indonesian Press Council (IPC) is an independent body given its mandate by Indonesia’s Law on the Press. In a public interview with the Jakarta Post, Yosep Prasetyo justifying his letter by saying that “ This is an international forum. What we are discussing are the relations between Indonesian and international issues […] We cannot solve the matter [at the WPFD event], only Jokowi’s administration can. Other countries can’t meddle in this affair, because of non-interference principles”. Regardless of the IPC letter, the side event continued. However, committee member said that police officers harassed them by making phone calls and personal visits to their office.