Papuan human rights defender threatened and stigmatised as separatist

Papuan human rights defender, Theo Hesegem, was verbally attacked and discredited by members of the government’s customary organisation ‘Lembaga Musyawarah Adat’ (LMA) at the airport in Wamena, Jayawijaya Regency, on 15 November 2020. Mr Hesegem had come to monitor the security situation at the airport. The situation threatened to escalate as LMA members and sympathisers of the ‘Red White Front’ (‘Barisan Merah Putih’ or BMP) prevented a delegation of 62 people from leaving the airport building. The delegation was seconded by the Papuan Peoples Assembly (MRP) to hold a consultation hearing about the success and failure of the Papuan Special Autonomy. Multiple plain cloth intelligence officers and military members recorded the incident with cell phone cameras without making any effort to deescalate the situation.

One of the LMA representatives named Henky Heselo threatened Mr Hesegem to stay out of this matter while pointing his finger at him. Karlos Huby, another LMA representative, shouted at Mr Hesegem and criticized his work as a human rights defender. According to Karlos Huby, Theo Hesegem’s human rights work “was not clear and only defended indigenous Papuans and not Non-Papuans”. Theo Hesegem explained that he had only come to the airport to prevent an escalation of the situation. He also asked the LMA representatives “Why are you preventing the delegation to hold its consultation hearing? You also have the right to express your opinion at the hearing.” As the discussion with the LMA members became more intense, Mr Hesegem decided to walk away from the group and meet with the MRP delegation.

Acts of intimidation, obstruction and defamation by security force members or third parties against Theo Hesegem are not isolated cases. Mr Hesegem has repeatedly been stigmatised in disinformation campaigns on the internet which accused him as separatist and supporter of the ‘Free Papua Movement’ or OPM (see photos below). The defamation is part of a larger disinformation campaign through fake social media accounts and false news websites which have been established to counter-balance news on human rights violations and demands for political self-determination on the internet.

A fake Facebook account with the name 'Nur Fatatik' was used to discredit Theo Hesegem and his work as a human rights defender. The posts contained edited images of Mr Hesegem, with slogans like “Theo Hesegem has distributed false information to cover up the cruelties committed by the OPM. Papuan people, be careful with Theo Hesegem, later he might tell the OPM to kill you while blaming the police/military for it.” (see photo on top). Meanwhile, Facebook has removed the account.

First defamations against Theo Hesegem have already been reported in March 2019. The dubious website “Kitorangpapuanews.com” discredited the human rights defenders Theo Hesegem and Pastor John Jongga, publishing an article with the title “Theo Hesegem spreads false news to cover-up OPM brutality”. The article accuses both human rights defenders of having disseminated false information on the killing of civilians during the ongoing security force operation in the regency of Nduga.

The disinformation campaign appears to be conducted through Indonesian internet marketing companies. Even though human rights defenders, media researchers and investigative journalists have not been able to establish direct links between fake accounts or fake news websites, they explained that such campaigns would not bring benefit to anybody apart from the Indonesian Government. Therefore, it is likely that the campaign is commissioned and funded by the Indonesian Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara) or other Government agencies.

Edited images of Theo Hesegem, accusing him as of being a separatist and of disseminating false news against the Indonesian police and military

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