Broadcasting Papua’s Songs of Freedom: Why the international community must support West Papua’s citizen media development


by Nick Chesterfield

A Paper presented at the University of Sydney Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies “Comprehending Papua Conference”, February 22-23, 2011.    This paper will form a chapter of the forthcoming book “Comprehending Papua”, to be published in early 2011 by the University of Sydney Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.


It is almost a cliché today that peoples wishing to free themselves from tyranny are turning in huge numbers to citizen journalism both to tell their stories to the outside world, and to put a formidable brake on the out of sight, out of mind mentality that allows state organs to conduct constant abuse with impunity. The rise of citizen media is giving mainstream journalism the kick it needs to remember its core business of giving voice to the voiceless.  In West Papua, the Voiceless are slowly discovering they can roar.

Just a few weeks ago an event occurred in Tunisia that was to be the spark for the pan-Arab awakening which has just seen yet another dictator ousted, now in Egypt.  After a local trader immolated himself in protest against the Tunisian regime, citizen media succeeded in viralizing the news of this event.  “We could protest for two years here, but without videos no one would take any notice of us,” said a relative of the martyred 25-year-old.

For media activists and journalists reporting Papua, this truth is self-evident, and its acceptance hopefully could ignite the spark of uprising in Papua.  The opportunities presented by the Pan-Arab (and other) awakenings are not being lost on the young generation in Papua.  Social media in Papua is buzzing, unafraid, with vibrant discussions of implications for Papua of the pan-Arabic revolutionary success.  The reality is that a spontaneous awakening and mass politicisation of ordinary Papuans is completely inevitable, and it is being ably assisted by switched-on local people developing their capacity to tell the story to the world.

In researching for several stories over the last few months, my sources have told me in no uncertain terms that they are all ready for a trigger to explode the situation.  The only thing holding back sustained mass action – revolution even – across occupied Papua is the constant bickering between exile groups, the actions of the collaborator elites, desperate to cling to the illusion that Jakarta is not there just to steal their land and send them to the moon, and for those who will put their own interests ahead of those surviving under occupation.

What is a mystery is how this mass consciousness will survive the elite and exile power games that are evident in most transitional polities throughout recent history (and is certainly present in West Papua today); whether those exiles will hijack the efforts of the young generation or listen to the actual wishes of their people; and if Jakarta can be trusted not to unleash the truly evil and deeply entrenched habitual brutality that is its only constant in becoming the new colonialists; or that they will claim their place amongst the civilised by not slaughtering those who want peace. History is a wise teacher, and its lesson is never trust the evil or greedy to reform of its own accord.

To keep these ugly realities in check, West Papua (and the international community) needs a determined, effective, vibrant and fearless citizen and professional media to deliver real-time accountability both internally and internationally.

Real time advocacy is vital for the international community to act to end Papua’s suffering.  Human Rights advocates conduct scientific research into abuses, but because this information does not get out easily, the problems in Papua are only now getting known to the world.

I need to ask you all today an honest question:  without the hard work of journalists in Papua and those outside assisting them to get their voice to international media, would Papua even be in people’s consciousness today?   So why is the international arena concerned with West Papua falling prey to the disease of factionalism and Big Man syndrome, and not in assisting WestPapuan people to get their stories into the living rooms of the world?

Many loud mouthed exiles claim significant legitimacy, but baulk and splutter when asked to prove it.   This has developed a culture of opacity across the exile movement.  A strong and diverse citizen based media across Papua can easily counter exile’s game playing and false claims by ensuring credibility and honesty in social movements. It benefits and strengthens social movements too by giving the skills and practice for sharpening their message, and creating a powerful argument for international support for their aims.  Strong domestic media also removes international government’s excuses for inaction, by seriously raising the credibility and verification bar.

If the international community is serious about improving the lives of Papuan people, it will help develop the capacity of the West Papuan media to tell the story of what is going on, and press Jakarta hard to allow immediate international media access.  After all, with full accountability, what is there to be afraid of?

Largely in response to years of wilful ignorance and self-censorship of the Indonesian created horrors in West Papua by international media, many sectors of Papuan society spontaneously and independently began a dramatic take-up of social media technology, exponentially increasing since 2008. Blogs, social networking and online media outlets are being utilized all over the country, by a young generation of Papuans impatient for real change.  Today’s mass Papuan movement is mainly urban, educated, innovative, nonviolence based, and embracing significantly the power of citizen and social media as a key plank of civil resistance strategy.

Very occasionally West Papua does get in the news, but only through the co-ordination between committed journalists and human rights workers working together and ear-bashing news editors.

Due to the ongoing ban by Indonesia on international media and humanitarian organisations having access to Papua, allegations of abuse are notoriously difficult to verify.  While this ban remains in place, only the most dedicated journalists make the effort to go in undercover.   West Papua Media has been proud to facilitate undercover trips into occupied territory to meet with many West Papuan people prepare to tell their own story. This is getting more difficult by the day so local people are working for a solution.

Live images, videos and online activism by Papuan people have already created tremendous momentum in action and awareness of Papua.  By creating their own media, and their own narrative, Papuan people are reclaiming self-determination denied for so long.

Reporting in West Papua is a highly risky business.   Journalists, Papuan and outsiders alike, are under constant threats for reporting West Papua, with four journalists dying in suspicious circumstance in 2010 alone.  Anywhere journalists report fearlessly they are targets, but most journalists in West Papua simply put up with it, they have no other option.  What can we do to lessen their risk?

Partly in response to this danger and partly to give local journalists a voice globally, West Papua Media (WPMA) (WestPapuaMedia.Info) was started. It aims to provide a professional service to international media covering West Papua, ensuring high quality, verifiable reporting gets into the international media, directly from the ground, and not from those who seek to distort the truth of daily experience in Papua.  By reporting Papuan campaigns to end human rights abuses and bringing these unreported Papuan issues to the front page, we hope to hold the abusers to account. With an ever growing stable of committed and disparate voices from citizen media to professional journalists, West Papua Media is proud and excited to be part of this movement.

Some of our real time work has assisted directly in the prevention of mass acts of violence by the Indonesian security forces, such as our coverage and media advocacy fixing of the July 8-9 Otsus Gagal demos and occupation of the Jayapura DPRP.

Less than ten minutes before the deadline for dispersal of the 2 day rally of over 45,000 people, Indonesian security forces were forced to back down after a BBC report aired, organised by WPMA, which brought international attention the explosively dangerous situation.  Extensive international diplomacy occurred in that 15 minutes and, together with the extreme discipline of the mass protest, enabled the protestors to peaceably leave the scene of the protest without violence.

WPMA has worked very hard raising the media profile of West Papua, with significant joint investigations with major media outlets breaking several key stories in 2010.  None of this would be possible without deep trust from the people of Papua in reporting their stories.  West Papuan citizen media, in conjunction with several colleagues here today, played a key role in alerting the world to deeply heinous cases of abuse.

One was the sourcing, verification and release of the deeply shocking leaked Kostrad torture videos of civilians in Puncak Jaya. The Kiwo incident neatly captures why the Indonesian military cannot be trusted to reform themselves from the inside, and why the role of a robust media is so critical in Papua.

The other was footage of Indonesian BRIMOB police taunting a former political prisoner Yawan Wayeni, having disembowelled him moments before for arguing with them. Both these videos showed the power of citizen media in activating international human rights networks to effectively raise the issue of Papua. Of course, there are many more videos in preparation for release.

A swarm movement cannot have a single media strategy, but media need to understand that it will get media out in its own way too.  The media that had wilfully ignored West Papua’s voice for so long really has no right to dictate how information disseminates, and if it wants to get the stories before others, then it just has to move faster.  Because it is new media techniques that have already, and will propel Papua onto the front page, to make people choke on their cornflakes.

Likewise, evidence dissemination also needs multiple, failsafe distribution routes: Single dissemination routes can easily be shut down or silenced.  West Papuans have tailored their mechanisms to this very effectively; yet this is significantly frustrating outside journalists.  According to many in mainstream media, West Papuans can be their own worst enemy when it comes to disseminating information.  People on the ground do need to get smarter about media distribution strategies, but the media also must adapt to a social and cultural reality.  West Papuan human rights and citizen media are not chaotic: they are maximising the potential audience  for their information.

It is important to understand that no one faction or sector in West Papua can claim dominance or leadership of this mass movement. This is not Congress in India and there is no single Gandhi figure. Rather, this is a movement with thousands of Gandhis.  The civil movement refuses to be based around a single leadership group, and instead features multitudes of groups and tribes all acting autonomously and independently (where everyone knows their role and works their hardest) but which is nevertheless unified under its collective goals.

Such a swarm structure can occasionally present difficulties for those who cannot think outside traditional top-down strategies for national change, which includes traditional media. Rather than being shut out of dialogue by the game playing of unaccountable elites, this type of structure encourages a longer lasting peace by enabling all actors to have their voices heard. It is also a natural strategy to employ in a nation where it is,  for the most part, illegal to congregate in groups.

Other barriers for West Papuan media are much more easily solved with a bit of training, and understanding the enemy (this time the enemy being the unreasonable expectations of media executives far removed from reality).

One issue is the lack of speed with which many West Papuan media activists work, and whilst improving, an event on a day has to be filmed, edited, packaged and disseminated as fast as possible. There are issues of journalistic discipline and professional journalistic practice in new media; safe information gathering, abuse documentation and investigative journalism methodology; information quality assurance; protection of sources, and more.

Effective citizen and professional media training is required to develop awareness of major current and future challenges to safe information dissemination – these are all programs that the West Papua Media network is currently engaged in and it needs help to increase its capacity.

All of this costs money, and requires the international community to understand that the development of indigenous journalism in West Papua is crucial to the protection of human security and peace across the entire Asia-Pacific region.  It requires international institutions in media and academia to get out of their cloisters and get muddy, to actually pool resources and help identify new sources of sustainable funding to start training journalists in innovative new media reportage techniques, and to support their work for the global human interest.  As I said before, West Papua Media already has training programs ready to go, we just need the funds to make them happen.

In West Papua, as across the world, accountability is always the simplest solution to combatting impunity. An aggressive culture of investigative journalism must be encouraged, and the skills to enable it must be developed, to deliver that accountability, be it in human rights, against military business mafias and corruption, human security, environmental protections, etcetera, and to cover (and protect) the desires of a population to determine their own future, in both the current occupation and in any situation for the future.  Both academia and international media must take a strong role in its development, to embed international protections to enable West Papua’s journalists and citizen media to report without fear, hindrance or threat, the stories that are important to West Papuan people and their freedom.

Our hope is that we have a really robust citizen media that can deliver accountability.  We want to stop people from being afraid of speaking out, and we want West Papua’s voice to be its weapon, to broadcast its songs for Freedom.

Nick Chesterfield, editor at, is a human security journalist and activist with extensive experience of the Papua issue through refugee protection, human rights, environmental protection, and citizen media work and safety training. He has conducted many field investigations in the West Papuan region since 1999. Together with citizen media and human rights workers from inside Papua, Chesterfield helped set up West Papua Media in 2008, to counter the wilful lack of coverage of West Papua by the international press.


Deadline of 22 March for DPRP to return OTSUS

Bintang Papua, 8 March 2011

[Abridged in translation,]

Several hundred people attended a demonstration in Jayapura on Tuesday 8 March, mostly from the Central Highlands Students Association, urging the provincial legislative assembly, the DPRP, to convene a special session to declare that OTSUS (the special autonomy law) has failed and that it should be sent back to the central government at the latest by 22 March this year.

The demo coordinator Selpius Bobii said that OTSUS had been a complete failure, it should be repealed and the MRP should be disbanded. The government should respond without delay to the eleven recommendations made last June and foreign countries should stop providing money to support OTSUS.

The churches should withdraw their members from the second-term MRP now eing formed. He also called for a halt to all investments in Papua which are exploiting its national resources, including Freeport, MIFEE, the Degeweo mining company, Ilaga and PLTA construction works.

There was also a call to the Pope in the Vatican and the World Council
of Churches in Geneva to pay attention to the serious problems in West Papua in order to save the people from annihilation. The Papuan people and supporters abroad should organise large demonstrations from 22 to 24 March, calling on the executive and legislatures in Papua and West Papua to return OTSUS to Jakarta.

A spokesman for the National Committee of West Papua, KNPB, called on the younger generation of Papuans to show the world that they want freedom. ‘Since Papua became part of Indonesia, there has only been bloodshed, oppression and killings everywhere in Papua,’ he said. Other speakers spoke in the same vein.

Some members and leaders of the DPRP met representatives of the
demonstrators afterwards.

The chairman of Commission A of the DPRP, Ruben Magai said that the
blame for the failure of OTSUS rests with the executive and that the
DPRP has no powers to take decisions to affect the situation.

The demonstrators also took their demands to the governor of the province.

Selpius Bobii also read out a statement saying that they would boycott
the elections now under way for mayor and governor if the national
parliament does not respond to these aspirations. They also threatened to occupy the office of the governor if these demands continue to be ignored. He said that they would wait till 4 April, at which time they would occupy the governor’s office, a statement that was responded to very enthusiastically by the demonstrators.

The Indonesian Government: closing window for peace in West Papua

This article originally appeared at
Jason MacLeod

Just as Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono was being feted globally for being a democrat, the Indonesian government was entrenching Papua’s reputation as Indonesia’s last bastion of authoritarian military rule. Now Peace Brigades International has finally been forced out.

The latest casualty in the Indonesian Government’s efforts to seal off West Papua from international scrutiny is Peace Brigades International (PBI). In January this year the international non-government organisation was finally forced out of Indonesia. Since 1981 at the invitation of local people, PBI has been providing unarmed protection to human rights defenders at risk in conflict zones around the world. International accompaniment is literally the embodiment of the international community’s concern. The presence of internationals increases the cost of attacking human rights workers and expands the political space for local activists. All this is made possible by an elaborate communication network. PBI staff meet with local police and military personal as well as their superiors in regional and national capitals to let them know exactly who is being accompanied. This acts as a deterrent. The PBI volunteers are the eyes and ears of the international community, communicating the human rights situation on the ground to an international network of governments and civil society actors. It is a tried and tested approach that has worked in places as diverse as El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Members of the PBI Indonesia Project were invited by Acehenese activists to accompany them through the darkest days of martial law. Acehenese civil society organisations like Flower Aceh and Koalisi HAM (the Human Rights Coalition) were able to continue their work because of PBI protective accompaniment. It gave local workers a sense that the international community cared about their situation and sent a clear message to the Indonesian army that they were being watched. PBIs protective accompaniment helped expand the space for peace in Aceh in the lead up to the historic Helsinki Peace Agreement. But in West Papua, home to Indonesia’s longest running separatist conflict, the world’s oldest international nonviolence organisation has finally met its match. After years of harassment from the Indonesian security forces the PBI Indonesia Project was closed down.

My colleagues and I helped set up the PBI West Papua project in 2003. I left the organisation in 2004 but kept in close contact with many of the organisers and staff members. One of the reasons PBI responded to an invitation from Papuan human rights defenders was because for years the Indonesian government has closed off access to West Papua to humanitarian organisations, journalists and even diplomats. It is important that Papua is opened up to the international community if human rights are to be addressed. But while the rest of Indonesia moved towards greater democracy, Papua slid back into an authoritarian backwater ruled by the Indonesian security forces as if it was their own private fiefdom. Since PBI established a presence in West Papua Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Dutch NGO CordAid and even the Red Cross have all been denied access. This level of hostility by a State to international scrutiny of a human rights situation is unusual. Even during the height of apartheid, the South African government permitted the Red Cross access to political prisoners. Not so in West Papua.

Prior to being forced out of West Papua, PBI was the only international human rights organisation with a permanent presence in Indonesia’s restive Pacific periphery. A group of long-term international volunteers based in Jayapura, the capital and in Wamena, in the troubled highlands, provided unarmed protection for Indonesian and Papuan human rights defenders and monitored the situation on the ground. PBI helped protect human rights defenders and lawyers trying to expose police brutality during the ‘Bloody Abepura’ trial in 2004. PBI also protected Papuan human rights defenders who were investigating the security forces after they cracked down on Papuans in the wake of the March 16 2006 blockade of the main road outside the University of Cendrawasih in Jayapura.

PBI is governed by a strict mandate. The organisation only supports unarmed actors, they do not take sides and they do not tell Papuans how they should run their struggle. Despite this the Indonesian government was petrified of PBI. I experienced this personally. When I was taken in for questioning in West Papua in 2007 after observing a demonstration in Papua, the very first question the Indonesian police intelligence agent asked me – even before enquiring whether I was a journalist or spy – was “Are you PBI?” By then I had left the organisation but it revealed the depth of the intelligence services concerns about PBI.

Almost from the moment PBI started work in West Papua the Indonesian government acted to restrict PBI’s access and ability to work. In 2009 the organisation was pressured to close the Wamena office in West Papua’s remote highlands, the scene of frequent human rights violations by the Indonesian military. PBI staff were refused permission to work as the police and intelligence services launched an official investigation into the organisation’s status. National Indonesian staff started to receive threatening phone calls. They felt increasingly vulnerable.

By late 2009 all one-on-one protective accompaniment had ceased. In an effort to stay in Papua protective strategies were reduced to regular check-in calls with PBI clients who felt threatened by state security forces. Then on 30 July 2010 Ardiansyah Matra’is’s naked, handcuffed body was found in the River Gudang Arang. His arm had been tied to a tree to prevent his body from floating downstream. Matra’is was a journalist working for Papua’s only national independent paper, Jubi. Matra’is had been critical of illegal logging operations run by the Indonesian military in Merauke and had taken photos of their activities. Matra’is was also a PBI client. His murder was the first time in Indonesia that a current PBI client had been killed.

The writing was on the wall: PBI was no longer making space for peace in Papua. In fact the opposite was happening. The Indonesian government was closing space for peace in Papua, and PBI appeared powerless to halt the slide into greater military impunity. Just as Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono was being feted globally for being a democrat, the Indonesian government was entrenching Papua’s reputation as Indonesia’s last bastion of authoritarian military rule.

But the Indonesian government’s restriction of access to West Papua is not just confined to grassroots international nonviolence organisations. Jakarta is even willing to snub the US government. In late 2010 the US Ambassador, Scott Marciel asked the Indonesian government if staff from the Embassy could observe the trial of three soldiers involved in torturing Papuan civilians. The torture, which including burning a man’s genitals with a stick, was filmed on a mobile phone camera and leaked to transnational human rights networks. When the footage was uploaded on to YouTube and featured on domestic and international news networks it generated massive moral outrage not just internationally but inside Indonesia as well. When the trial went ahead last month, Mr. Marciel was notified by the Indonesian government only 24 hours beforehand, not enough time to apply for a surat jalan, a letter of permission to travel to West Papua required by the Indonesian government. It was not an official denial from the Indonesian government but it may as well have been.

The Indonesian government is blocking access for all those who want to shine a light into West Papua. The problem for the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono is that he has allowed the Indonesian intelligence services to dominate decision-making processes in West Papua. The intelligence services determine who gets access into West Papua and who does not. They are the ones who assess the applications of foreign NGOs, journalists and even diplomats who want to travel to West Papua. Access to West Papua should be subjected to the rule of law and not to surveillance principles. If democracy and rule of law was present in West Papua, the surat jalan regime would be abolished altogether.

The Indonesian government cannot have it both ways. The human rights situation in West Papua cannot be fine while at the same time the Indonesian government and its intelligence and security forces insist the territory is off limits to foreigners. Either human rights are respected in West Papua or they are not. The closure of PBI in Indonesia only sharpens the international community’s perception that the Indonesian government has something to hide in West Papua.

Jason MacLeod worked for the PBI Indonesia Project from 2000 to 2004. He teaches civil resistance at the University of Queensland.

More reports about arrested nurses in Papua

[More reports about arrest of medical personnel in Jayapura]

JUBI 16 March 2011

The National Union of Indonesian Nurses has called on the police in the
province of Papua to release the eight nurses who work at the Jayapura Dok II General Hospital. The chairman of the organisation, Marthen Sagrim, said that failure to release the eight would create many problems.

He said that at the very least, they should not be held for long but the
best would be for all of them to be released quickly. ‘I can say for
certain that the strike that is going on will have serious repercussions
for everyone.’

He went on to say that his organisation had been in contact with nurses who are now on strike to ask them to return to their duties while waiting for the incentive payment to be paid. He said that a meeting that had been held at a hotel in Jayapura on Monday this week and had taken a number of decisions and nurses had returned to their duties on Tuesday, yet even so, there was this unexpected news about the eight arrests. ‘This simply does not make sense,’ he said. ‘These cases should be processed immediately and the people freed.’

He also said that he had made contact with all sides for a quick
solution to the problem, including with the criminal investigation unit
of the police and the DPRP, the Papuan Provincial Assembly.


JUBI 15 March 2011

It was the demand for the payment of the incentive fee to nurses at Dok II Hospital that led to a strike by a number of nurses, after which
eight of the nurses were arrested by the local police. The arrests took
place on Monday this week and several hours later, dozens of nurses
went to police headquarters in Jayapura..

The arrested nurses are: Leni Ebe, Popi Maure, Lativa Rumkabu, Stefi
Siahaya, Yolanda Inauri, Menaim Anonggear and Delila Ataruri. [Only
seven names.]

Speaking on behalf of the arrested people, their lawyer, Anum Siregar
said that the police action in arresting them was excessive. People just came out to demand their right to be paid. The police action is
damaging for the whole community,’ she said.

She said that the demand should be properly resolved. What the police
have done is not right and will only complicate matters. Actions of
solidarity will only intensify.’

She said that this matter is not one for the police to handle but for
the government to solve.

The eight people are still in police custody and are undergoing
interrogation, but the police have made no comment about the case.

As previously reported, the provincial administration promised that
nurses would receive an incentive payment in 2010, and that the payment would be made in December 2010, but this did not happen.

Medical personnel arrested in Jayapura for ‘inciting strike’

Bintang Papua, 15 March 2011

[Abridged in translation into English]

Eight nurses and midwives have been arrested in Jayapura for their
involvement in a strike that resulting in a halt to services at the
general hospital in Jayapura. They face charges of inciting their
colleagues to take part in a strike.

[See earlier reports about the strike of medical personnel who were
protesting against the failure of the authorities to pay incentives that
had been promised more than a year ago.]

The eight persons are being held by the criminal investigation unit of
the Papuan police command. The police claim that there is sufficient
proof that the persons had acted in violation of the law, forcing others
to engage in acts of violence and citing a number of articles in
Indonesia’s criminal code. Media attempts to contact the police for
confirmation of the arrest were unsuccessful.

According to Anum Siregar, one of the lawyers acting for the eight, a
group of fifty personnel from the security forces had gone to the homes of two of the persons and told them that they must report to police headquarters in Papua. The two women, Leni Ebe and Popi Mauri, then contacted the lawyer to inform her of what had happened. The two women then reported to the police as requested, in the company of the lawyer.

The two had earlier received notification from the police that they
would be summoned as witnesses in connection with the strike action of the hospital personnel.

According to Anum Siregar, after being questioned for several hours by
the police as witnesses, the police changed tack and indicated that they were being held as suspects. Soon after, the police took the six others into custody.

According to Bintang Papua, the eight detainees have been subjected to prolonged interrogations while other personnel from the hospital have rallied in support of their colleagues. Anum Siregar accused the police of acting in violation of the rule of law, saying that the medical
personnel were only acting in defence of their legitimate rights. She
also said that the action by the police would have a negative effect on the provision of services for patients at the general hospital.

‘The impact will not be felt by officials in the province because they
never go to the local hospital for treatment on occasions when they fall ill but fly to Jakarta or overseas for treatment.’

She also said that the arrests had led to expressions of solidarity from
members of the medical profession throughout the Land of Papua in
protest against the actions of the police.

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