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HRW: Indonesia: End Access Restrictions to Papua

Press release

For Immediate Release
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Indonesia: End Access Restrictions to Papua
Official Obstacles for Foreign Media and Monitors Defy Presidential Order

(Jakarta, November 11, 2015) – Indonesian authorities continue to restrict access by foreign journalists and rights monitors to Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of Papua, raising serious concerns about the government’s commitment to media freedom, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. The restrictions defy a May 10, 2015 announcement by Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – that accredited foreign media would have unimpeded access to Papua.

“Government access restrictions have for far too long made Papua Indonesia’s ‘forbidden island’ for foreign media and rights monitors,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Blocking media access on overbroad ‘security’ grounds deters foreign news reporting about Papua, raising troubling questions about what the Indonesian government might be trying to hide there.”

The 75-page report, “Something to Hide?: Indonesia’s Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua,” documents the government’s role in obstructing access to the provinces of Papua and West Papua (collectively referred to as “Papua”), including government backlash since Jokowi’s announcement.

The decades-old access restrictions on Papua are rooted in government suspicion of the motives of foreign nationals in a region still troubled by widespread corruption, environmental degradation, public dissatisfaction with Jakarta, and a small pro-independence insurgency.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 107 journalists, editors, publishers, and representatives of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations for the report. Foreign correspondents describe an opaque and unpredictable permit application process in which they often never received a final response. Many have waited fruitlessly for months – and in some cases years – for approval.

Jokowi’s May 10 announcement has faced strong resistance by some senior government and security forces officials, Human Rights Watch said. The government has also not followed that announcement with a specific written directive, which opened space for non-compliance by state agencies and security forces opposed to loosening restrictions on foreign observer access to Papua. Various senior officials have since publicly contradicted the president’s statement. Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has announced that it has “liquidated” the 18-agency “Clearing House” that previously was used to vet journalists, has confirmed that prior police permission is still required for foreign media access to Papua. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in some cases also continuing to ask some journalists seeking to travel to Papua to provide, in advance, details of their likely sources and dates of travel.

Foreign correspondents have reported mixed results from their efforts to take advantage of the announced loosening of Papua access restrictions. For instance, after Jokowi’s announcement, the Indonesian embassy in Bangkok processed and granted in just 15 days a Papua reporting visa for Cyril Payen, a Bangkok-based correspondent for France 24 television. The embassy also assured him that he was not obligated to have any check-ins with police or immigration officials while in Papua. “Whether I was lucky or not, I don’t know,” Payen said. “They really opened up.”

However, a Jakarta-based foreign correspondent showed Human Rights Watch a copy of correspondence with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from July 2015 in which a ministry official listed both a surat jalan, or travel permit, from the National Police’s Security Intelligence Agency, as well as a “letter of notification” specifying the journalist’s “purpose, time and places of coverage in Papua,” as prerequisites for access to Papua.

Foreign journalists who ultimately are granted Papua access permits often face surveillance and harassment after arrival in Papua. Several said that they were required to have an official “minder” from the State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara, BIN) for the full duration of their visits, significantly limiting their ability to report on issues deemed sensitive.

“President Jokowi needs to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality by putting the guarantee of unimpeded foreign media access to Papua in writing,” Kine said. “He should make it clear to government officials and security forces alike that obstructing journalists is unacceptable in Papua and anywhere else in Indonesia.”

Indonesian journalists – particularly ethnic Papuans – are also vulnerable to restrictions on media freedom in Papua, Human Rights Watch said. Reporting on corruption and land grabs can be dangerous anywhere in Indonesia, but national and local journalists told Human Rights Watch that those dangers are magnified in Papua. In addition, journalists there face harassment, intimidation, and at times even violence from officials, members of the public, and pro-independence forces when they report on sensitive political topics and human rights abuses.

Journalists in Papua say they routinely self-censor to avoid reprisals for their reporting. That environment of fear and distrust is increased by the security forces’ longstanding and documented practice of paying some journalists to be informers and even deploying agents to work undercover in newsrooms as journalists. These practices are carried out both to minimize negative coverage and to encourage positive reporting about the political situation, and they generate distrust among journalists.

Representatives of international nongovernmental organizations, United Nations experts, and foreign academics have also faced official obstacles to visiting Papua. Since 2009, the International Committee for the Red Cross, the Dutch development organization Cordaid, and the Peace Brigades International have all limited or closed their Papua-based operations due to pressures from the Indonesian government.

In 2013, the Indonesian government blocked a proposed visit by Frank La Rue, then the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Diplomatic sources in Geneva told La Rue that the Indonesian government froze his requested visit due to his inclusion of Papua in his proposed itinerary. “[The Indonesian mission in Geneva] asked what areas I want to go to [and] I said Jakarta and bigger places like Bali, but for me, I said, it was very important to visit Aceh and Papua,” La Rue told Human Rights Watch. “They said ‘Great, we’ll get back to you.’ What it meant was that they postponed the dates and put the trip off indefinitely.”

“It’s clear from our research that removing access restrictions is not a silver bullet to resolve Papua’s deep-seated problems or dispel the suspicions of Indonesian officials toward foreign media and other observers,” Kine said. “But greater transparency and access are essential elements of a rights-respecting future for Papua to throw sunshine on abuses of power that for too long have remained hidden from view.”

For accounts from the report, please see below.

“Something to Hide?: Indonesia’s Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua” is available at:

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Indonesia, please visit:

For more information, please contact:
In Jakarta, Andreas Harsono (English, Indonesian): +62-815-950-9000 (mobile); or
In Jakarta, Phelim Kine (English, Mandarin): +62-812 10877314 (mobile) or +1-212-810-0469 (US mobile); or Twitter: @PhelimKine
In San Francisco, Brad Adams (English): +1 347-463-3531 (mobile); or
In Sydney, Elaine Pearson (English): +61-400-505-186 (mobile); or Twitter: @pearsonelaine
In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or Twitter: @johnsifton

Accounts from “Something to Hide?”

Rohan Redheya, a Dutch freelance photojournalist who applied in The Hague for a journalist visa to Papua in July 2014, said that although the Indonesian embassy informed him that the approval process was “around two weeks,” the embassy never responded to his application. “I know many journalists who got ignored [by Indonesian visa issuance offices], and they simply never heard something again [after submitting a Papua access application].”

“The Clearing House system of consensus voting means any one person has veto power, which generally means that the opinion of the most paranoid person in the meeting carries the day. These restrictions fuel all manner of speculation about Papua: the notion that the Indonesian government has ‘something to hide’ finds purchase. But the Indonesian government finds itself in the illogical position where they hear of inflammatory reporting and this actually makes them impose restrictions, and then those restrictions prevent good journalists from writing of the complexities of the place.”
– Bobby Anderson, a social development specialist and researcher who worked in Papua from 2010 to 2015, describing the government’s “Clearing House” screening of foreign journalists seeking to report from Papua.

Marie Dhumieres, a French journalist, received a police permit to go to Papua in September 2015. A week later the police arrested and questioned three Papuan activists whom she interviewed. She published this tweet to President Jokowi, and the activists were soon released: “So Mr @jokowi, foreign journalists are free to work anywhere in Papua but the people we interview get arrested after we leave?”

“If you read all the news reports in all newspapers in Manokwari [in Papua], you will see that their sources are almost all, almost 100 percent, government officials. Their sources are always government officials, police officers, or military officers.”
– Agusta Bunay, a Papua Barat TV presenter, on self-censorship among journalists fearful of possible reprisals for independent reporting.

Thousands of students rally to reject Otsus Plus and provincial division

By West Papua Media editors, with local stringers

November 5, 2013

Thousands of Papuan university and high school students led demonstrations in Jayapura on November 4, firmly rejecting attempts by Jakarta to impose the revived “new, improved” version of the failed Special Autonomy package, named “Otsus Plus”.

A coalition of student organizations, collectively known as ‘Students, Youth and People’s Movement’ (Gerakan Mahasiswa, Pemuda dan Rakyat Papua (GempaR Papua) –  the acronym GempaR literally translates as “Unarmed Insurrection” or “Uproar”), also called the actions to reject Jakarta’s latest plans to divide Papua into 33 districts and three further provinces.  The movement has been started by students from seven different high schools, technical colleges and universities in Jayapura, including Cenderawasih University, UMEL MANDIRI, STIKOM, STT GKI I.S.KIJNE and the opposition to the imposition of Special Autonomy Plus.  The rally was subject to several threats of violence from Indonesian security forces, who routinely deem all gatherings on peaceful Papuan aspirations as subversive and treasonous, according to rally sources.

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The planned administrative divisions of Papuan land and districts under Otsus Plus have been widely interpreted as a colonial act by most Papuan civil society groups, according to Papuan observers, and seen as a covert method of further increasing the massive militarisation of Papua.  Each new district automatically gains its own military and policy company (150 men for each), and each further province each gains their own battalions of Military (1500 men) and Police (1200 men), further adding to the estimated 45,000 troops in Papua, the most militarised area under Indonesian occupation.

“Special Autonomy ‘Plus’ will not change (the mind of) Papuans.  Special Autonomy Plus is not a solution for indigenous Papuans. We firmly reject the plan for Autonomy Plus in Papua and West Papua, we reject it, Autonomy Plus and the New Re-districting are the same (still) killing Papuan people, not the solution to prosperity ” said Hendrik Koroto, Demonstration Coordinator and student at the Faculty of Engineering.

As is standard with any demonstration in Papua, the Indonesian police attempted at least twice to violently prevent the students from peacefully continuing on the march, shadowing the gathering with several hundred heavily armed security personnel.  The notoriously hardline Jayapura Deputy Police Chief Kiki Kurnia, again confronted the marchers in an effort to disperse them, threatening the use of heavy force on the students with a display of hardware including heavily armed police, water cannon and Barrucuda armoured assault vehicles. Intense negotiations took place for almost 15-20 minutes between organisers and Senior Police However, Jayapura Police Chief Alfred Papare agreed to allow marchers to continue their march using one lane to allow traffic to pass.

Whilst one group was negotiating with police, a large number of students unexpectedly took to the road, and several waves of students began to march on the Governor’s office, holding hands and neighbours with a tight protective formation.    Police dragged barbed wire in front of the Governor’s office and blocked the main entrance with 5 police trucks, and several other vehicles, The student and civil society gathering then occupied the forecourt of the Governor’s office for over two hours, during which time Governor Enembe agreed to meet a delegation from the student representatives.  No arrests were reported but threats were allegedly made against keynote speakers and rally organisers, according to witnesses who spoke with West Papua Media stringers.



Indonesian Police surveille activists during the Papuan Cultural Parade, August 15, 2013

Mixed success for Papuan Cultural parades despite pre-emptive arrests across Papua

Special Wrap-up report by West Papua Media, with local sources.

(Apologies for delay in posting as WPM was chasing hi-res photo essays from outlying regions.  This will be a separate item as soon as we get hold of them.)

August 26, 2013

Scores of non-violent activists from the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) were arrested across Papua over the last two weeks, when Indonesian Police carried out pre-emptive sweeps ahead of a day of mobilisation on August 15, a day intended to celebrate Papuan cultural identity and demand rights to free expression be respected.

Organisers across Papua claimed varying degrees of success in holding the cultural parades, hailing the assertion of Papuan cultural identity in the face of a “deliberate campaign of cultural suppression by the Indonesian colonial security forces” as a “moral victory that would show that West Papuan people are not going to die quietly,”  according to sources who spoke with West Papua Media (WPM).

The parades were organised by West Papuan activists on the anniversary of the contentious New York Agreement – that began the process of Indonesian colonisation of Papua – to demonstrate against ongoing the threats to the survival of Papuan culture.  The parades  were also celebrating the opening of the new Free West Papua Campaign office in The Hague in The Netherlands under the coordination of Oridek Ap (the exiled son of executed West Papuan musician and cultural hero Arnold Ap).

Despite Police being widely reported by Indonesian colonial media stating they would allow the parades to go ahead, activists and stringers for WPM reported from across the country of waves of arrests – or detentions as described by Indonesian security forces – and intimidation that prevented several of the parades from occurring.

Nevertheless, the events went ahead in Jayapura, Wamena and Biak, with  much smaller gatherings unconfirmed across the rest of the country.

Papuans villagers  arrested and searched, detained in Aula Fakfak Police for interrogation (photo: Alex Tethool / Jubi / Fakfak)
Papuans villagers arrested and searched, detained in Aula Fakfak Police for interrogation (photo: Alex Tethool / Jubi / Fakfak)

In the west coast town of FakFak, police arrested several dozen people on August 13, according to reports from Tabloid Jubi, and human rights sources.   Jubi reported that officers intercepted two trucks carrying dozens of villagers as they were preparing to attend the Cultural Parade on the 15th.  Police commandeered the trucks to  the police headquarters in Fakfak, detaining and interrogating the villagers – including large numbers of women and children –  in the Police Hall.  Police refused to explain their actions to Papuan media, according to local observers.  Unconfirmed reports from Fakfak say the majority of villagers were released, but the date of their release, or the ability for them to continue their participation in the cultural parades is still unknown.


In Jayapura, KNPB Chairman Agus Kosai was arrested by Police as he and other KNPB members attempted to move a sound system from his village near Sentani (about 12km outside Jayapura) to the gravesite of slain independence hero Theys Eluay in Waena.  KNPB treasurer Toni Kobak and National Spokesperson Wim Medlama were also arrested with 13 other KNPB members.  Police interrogated them but later released them, ordering them home after seizing their banners and equipment.

Refusing to be intimidated, the released KNPB members then ignored the Police directive, made new rally materials and proceeded with the planned Cultural Parades regardless in Jayapura.

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Thousands of local people turned out in Jayapura to showcase Papua’s vibrant indigenous cultural diversity, reflecting and representing Papuan cultures from every corner of the country.   The day itself had been planned as a deeply symbolic act of cultural resistance through survival, drawing on the actions of slain ethnomusicologist Arnold Ap in a nonviolent assertion of Papuan sovereignty resisting  Indonesian colonisation and control of Papuan lives.

Indonesian Police surveille activists during the Papuan Cultural Parade, August 15, 2013
Indonesian Police surveille activists during the Papuan Cultural Parade, Jayapura, August 15, 2013 (Photo: West Papua Media / YS)

Illustrating this attempt at control, many acts of cultural expression such as banned dances, banned songs, and banned displays of cultural heritage were actively monitored by heavily armed Indonesian Police, however the sheer number of participants prevented further arrests.

Coordinator of the Peace Demonstration Warpo Sampari Wetipo, told the crowd from a stage mounted atop a Kijang car, “we in KNPB are standing with the people of Papua, despite the Indonesian military’s terror by prohibiting any peaceful demonstration and action, we do continue to fight without fear, to demand the right of self-determination for us, the people of West Papua.”

Buchtar Tabuni, West Papua Parliament Chairman, and revolving door political prisoner currently between arrests, reminded the crowd that they were gathered to “Declare to the world that the people of Papua are demanding the recognition of their right of self-determination with fairness and dignity.”  By demonstrating their cultural resistance, Tabuni said that West Papuan people were asserting their identity “as a community of the Melanesian family, that Papuans are not part of the people of Indonesia or Malay.”

Reports from the Jayapura rally suggested that police were initially prepared to utilise force against the participants after they defied the order to go home.  Significant military hardware was deployed, with security forces surrounding the thousands of people gathered at Theys’ gravesite with Armoured personnel carriers, water cannon, tear gas trucks and several Barracuda armoured assault vehicles.

According to reports filed to WPM, activists had prepared unspecified “unique” methods of non-violent de-arresting techniques should the need arise, though it is unclear whether the Indonesian security forces were prepared to respect the nonviolence of the day.

The rally had been tightly safeguarded by KNPB members, who kept the participants separated from security forces and plain clothes special forces personnel with a simple rope line, thus preventing any agents provocateur from provoking police to create a scenario of violence.  in Papua.   Buchtar Tabuni told the crowd at the end of the rally, “the security forces to help secure us, and also I just want to explain that from yesterday until last night we kept guard patrol, to keep track of things that we do not want to happen and also it helps security deposit until the day’s activities, ”

In Wamena, KNPB activists reported that police and members of the Indonesian army were also being proactive in prevention of the parades, with banner seizures and an active show of force.  According to local sources, almost the entire KODIM 756 Wim Ane Sili (lit. “House of the Sound of War” in Dani language) Battalion (up to 1000 soldiers) surround the protest field at Sinapuk,

This massive “show force” was responsible for thousands of people being forced to stay away from the Cultural gathering, according to KNPB Wamena spokesperson Mr Mabel.  The gathering was peaceful but was only attended by several hundred people.

In Biak, local members of the KNPB organised a smaller demonstration passing the site of the infamous Biak Massacre, which recently commemorated its 15th anniversary on July 6.  Hundreds of people marched from the old market and Terminal Pasar Darfuar ending up at a traditional meeting house (pendopo adat Sorido), to support the opening of The Hague Free West Papua office.  Apollos Sroyer, Biak KNPB Chairman, told WPM’s correspondent “The parade was also planned as an expression of welcome to the arrival of messengers from the Melanesian Spearhead Groups (MSG) in the near future to West Papua.”

Sroyer also expressed “gratitude to those MSG members who have expressed their support of the right of self-determination of the people of West Papua,” without mentioning the official rejection of the bid for Observer Status for West Papua by the MSG, widely seen as a betrayal of Melanesian solidarity by many across the Pacific.

WestPapuaMedia, with local sources

Timika Six plead for international intervention after sentence passed despite unproven case

by West Papua Media, with Oktovianus Pogau at

April 18, 2013

Six West Papua National Committee (KNPB) activists from Timika were each sentenced to one year in prison on Tuesday by judges from the Assembly District Court in a trial deemed as opaque and farcical by observers.  Sentenced on charges of carrying dangerous weapons and makar (treason/subversion), defence lawyers insisted that the six non-violent activists had no case proven against them and will immediately be lodging an appeal.

The KNPB Timika 6 back in their cells, photo taken April 17, after trial hearing. From L-R, (photo KNPB/ West Papua Media)
The KNPB Timika 6 back in their cells, photo taken April 17, after trial hearing. (photo KNPB/ West Papua Media)

The six, Romario Yatipai, Steven Itlay, Yakonias Womsiwor, Paulus Marsyom, Alfred Marsyom and Yanto Awerkion, were arrested on October 24, 2012, amidst a spate of high publicity arrests of KNPB activists by the Australian-funded counter-terror unit Detachment 88.  The then-incoming Papua Police Chief, former Detachment 88 chief Tito Karnavian,  exploited the brutal arrests to increase justification for use of Detachment 88 against political activists at a time when OTK (unknown persons, now known as Orang Terlatih Khusus or Specially Trained Persons) killings were spiralling out of control across Papua.

Despite Jakarta pinning the blame for the killings on non-violent activists from the

KNPB Timika Activist  Romario Yatipai
KNPB Timika Activist Romario Yatipai

KNPB, no credible evidence had been able to prove KNPB responsibility despite highly politicised and farcical trial processes.  Most independent observers have linked responsibility for OTK incidents in Papua squarely in the hands of agents of the Indonesian special forces.

In SMS and email communications to West Papua Media from the prison before and after the trial, KNPB activist and detainee spokesman Romario Yatipai said that the assertions made by police were “Simply lies”.

“We are KNPB activist in Timika, West Papua. Indonesia Police jailed us with no reason.” – Romario Yatipai

“Indonesian police say that KNPB activist are criminals, terrorists, Makar (treason), separatist and so on,” Yatipai explained.

“Actually, KNPB activists in Timika always make peaceful demonstrations with all West Papuans.    We always make peaceful demonstrations to demand Referendum, as the best solution for West Papua,” he said.

Central to the police case was that the accused were allegedly carrying explosives to be used against Indonesian police posts and military targets, yet no evidence was furnished that could prove that the accused possessed explosives before t

Despite the Australian Federal Police providing Detachment 88 with state-of-the-art explosives and ballistic forensic testing capability to secure counter-terror convictions, none of this equipment or personnel were deployed in Papua for any of the OTK  trials, and no forensic proof was available at the Timika 6 trials that could have linked any of the defendants to use of explosives.

The trial heard wild accusations from prosecutors and police, but defence lawyers led by Gustaf Kawer, objected and expressed surprise when Yanto Awerkion (19) was sentenced.

As to who had ownership of explosives, Kawer explained to Suara Papua, none of the witnesses saw the defendant carrying explosives, but officials forced the defendant to claim possession of explosives.

“Since the moment of the defendant’s arrest along with five colleagues, there were absolutely no explosives he possessed … Yet when he reached the Mimika police station, the officers brought explosives and used it as evidence, and compelled the accused to confess  having an explosive. It’s very strange,” Kawer told Suara Papua.   “Our legal counsel will conduct a plea on April 23, 2013. The sixth defendant must be released immediately because of  not proven guilty, ”

Kawer also objected to the sentencing of the other defendants under makar provisions, saying the judges decision “did not correlate with the examination of the facts.”

“For the first case, it’s not proven that the five defendants were in the possession of sharp weapons.  And concerning the  treason related article, also during the course of investigation (there was) not any reference to it, but nevertheless the judge decided one year in prison by saying treason  that was proven – so we will appeal, ” Kawer told suarapapua. com.

After the defendants returned to the prison cells that have been their home since October 2012, they made a video appeal on their mobile phones, calling on the international community to do more to ensure that Indonesia ceases its persecution of peaceful political activists.

“We hope (the) International community, Amnesty International, IPWP, ILWP support us and pressure Indonesia government, Indonesia Police in Papua and Timika,” Yatipai told West Papua Media.  “West Papua activists, and all West Papuans need UN Observers,  UN Humanitarian workers, and International Journalists now in Papua.”

“Please support us with prayer and monitoring for us” said Yatipai.


PRD Merauke Secretary badly beaten by TNI 755 Btn

by West Papua Media and local sources

November 6, 2012

Information and video footage has emerged from Merauke, Papua, documenting the beating by Indonesian soldiers of the Secretary General of the Parlemen Rakyat Daerah (People’s Regional Parliament), further fulling tensions in the area between occupation forces and the local population.

The incident occurred around 3pm local time on November 3 , as the SekJen, Peter T. Katem was riding his Yamaha motorcycle with a community member, Mr Robert Mayonim.  The pair lost control of their bike due to newly made but rough village roads in Domba Empat street,  accidentally nudged a military officer with their motorbike outside the office of E Company, 755 Battalion (Merauke) of the Indonesian Army (TNI), according to witnesses.

Citizen journalists, Lintah Digoel and Rade Minyak. who interviewed the victims reported that the TNI member and two colleagues then gave chase after they refused to accept the accident, and attacked the pair at the crossroads outside the Company post.  As the beatings continued, more soldiers arrived on the scene and joined in, some in plain clothes and some in uniform.  The beating was filmed (below) by a witness.

According to local sources, Katem and Mayonim were taken forcibly to the E/755 Btn Post with beatings continuing as they were being dragged.  Arriving at the office, they were then tortured for about an hour and a half, they were punched, kicked and beaten with wood, fruit and bamboo.

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The persecution ended after a number of Domba Empat community members   came to the office to demand their release, which occurred two hours later, Digoel and Minyak reported.

So far, none of the perpetrators have been investigated.