WAN-IFRA investigates media freedom in West Papua

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The World Association of Newspapers and News Publisher (WAN-IFRA) launched an investigation on the media freedom situation in the Papuan cities Jayapura, Merauke and Timika between 30th January and 3rd February 2017. A delegation from the Media Freedom Committee Indonesia (MFCI) consisting of eight Indonesian journalists from Jakarta, Makassar and Solo traveled to Papua province, where they followed local journalists from Papuan news organisations during media coverage for five days. The initiative was part of WAN-IFRA's Strengthening Media and Society programme which is backed by the Denmark Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Committee reported the following key findings. Government officials and security personnel are discriminatory towards indigenous Papuan journalists. Journalists in West Papua are stigmatised, belonging either to pro-independence or nationalist factions, which results in intimidation and fragmentation among the journalist community. Environmental degradation through development programs is underreported due to heavy restrictions on the press freedom. Journalists from the Papua South Post shared stories about police and government intimidation, including two publication bans in 2007 and 2008, being threatened with criminal law, and a prohibition on reporting on President Joko Widodo's Merauke investment program. Another Timika-based journalist reported that he was threatened at knifepoint and then stabbed. Particularly female journalists in Papua are at risk to become victims of sexual harassment. Not all of these cases are reported. One MFCI team member collected facts on a sexual harassment of a female journalist in Jayapura.

The Indonesian government continues to limit free access to West Papua for foreign journalists. 11 Out of 16 journalists who visited the region between, May 2015 and January 2017 reported that they were monitored by intelligence officials. Furthermore, the MFCI also expressed their concern about Indonesia blocking access to approximately 800,000 websites. One of the blocked sites is Suara Papua (the Voice of Papua), a news outlet exposing human rights abuses in the conflict region.

Indonesia will host the World Press Freedom Day in Jakarta on 3rd May 2017. The Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF), a regional media freedom and ethics monitoring and advocacy NGO based in the cook Islands, criticised Indonesia as a host to this event in consideration of ongoing restrictions and press freedom violations in the provinces Papua and Papua Barat. PFF Chair Monica Miller warned that “Jakarta risks global condemnation if it continues to ignore the facts […] Jakarta needs to think very, very carefully about its continued failure to fulfil its own promises, its own guarantees for media freedom under the Indonesian constitution, and its signature to many international treaties.”


On the 10th May 2015, President Joko Widodo publicly stated that West Papua would be opened to foreign journalists. He reiterated the opening of West Papua during his official speech on Indonesia's Independence Day on the 14th August 2015. In November 2015, a delegation of International Partnership Mission to Indonesia (IPMI). came to West Papua to investigate developments on press freedom after President Joko Widodo's promise to open access to the region for foreign journalists and observers. The mission had received an official recommendation by the central government's ministry for politics, law and security in Jakarta. The head of Papuan regional police and the commander (PANGDAM) of Cenderawasih local military command rejected a request for a meeting with the delegation, reasoning that IPMI should have informed the headquarters of the Indonesian police and military about their arrival. In fact, Indonesian government agencies still hinder foreign journalists from conducting media coverage 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 relation to human rights violations in West Papua. In March 2017, the French journalists Jean Frank Pierre and Basille Marie Longhamp were forced to leave the country while shooting a documentary on the nature and culture of the Papua Province. (read: Indonesia deports two French journalists from West Papua)

Indonesia improved eight places between 2015 and 2016 on the Reporters Sans Frontiers World Press Freedom Index and is currently ranked at position 130 out of 180 countries. However, Indonesia is still coded red, indicating a generally “bad” performance in realizinig press freedom. The Press Freedom Index compiled by the Indonesian Press Council (Dewan Pers Indonesia) in 2015 scored Papua province with 63.88. The province of Papua Barat was considered as least free province in Indonesia with a score of 52.56. The province with the highest score of 72.39 was Aceh.