66 arrested, thousands rally for release of gaoled French journos, defying Police crackdown on calls to respect press freedom

By the West Papua Media team and local stringers,

with additional reporting from Tabloid Jubi and MajalahSelengkah

October 14, 2014

66 West Papuan activists were arrested by Indonesian Police in Jayapura and Merauke, Papua on Monday, as rallies calling for respect of press freedom and the release of two French journalists who continue to be imprisoned without charge, attracted thousands of people across Papua and Indonesia.

Indonesian police had prohibited the rallies in Jayapura and Merauke on the pretext that rally organisers the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat or KNPB) is an incorrectly registered organization, and that demonstrators may use the constitutionally legal but police banned Morning Star flag on banners, posters and paraphernalia.

Arrested by Indonesian police in Wamena on August 6 and 7, Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat remain in immigration detention awaiting trial, with their detention repeatedly extended in an unprecedented case – which usually results in a simple deportation.

Indonesian police finally announced on October 14 that the two journalists would be facing trial on October 20, on immigration charges of “misusing a visa”, a mere 70 days after their initial arrest with a local school teacher Areki Wanimbo, two farmers and human rights defender in Wamena.

The trial will begin on the Inauguration day of new Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, in a move clearly seen by most Papuan observers to be a direct challenge by colonial status-quo forces in Papua to the stated plans of Jokowi, to end the ban on foreign Press to report from Papua without restriction.

The plight of the two journalists has elicited record levels of support amongst Papuan civil society, in solidarity against the arrest of journalists carrying out their legitimate professional tasks.

The rallies planned to highlight the widely held view that the continued imprisonment of journalists seeking to report West Papua parallels with the criminalization of Papuan people’s right to Freedom of Expression, by Indonesian occupation forces.

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Photos of rallies around Papua (Photo credits: KNPB, Ones Suhun WPM, and Majalah Selengkah

Many thousands of people openly defied the police ban, and attended rallies and marches in Timika, Nabire, Sorong, FakFak, Manokwari and remote Yahukimo held in solidarity with the detained journalists, and scores of fixers, human rights defenders and ordinary civilian sources that have been caught up in an unprecedented crackdown on the rights of Papuan people to speak with foreign journalists.

The rallies in Manokwari and Sorong were broken up forcibly by heavily armed riot police, however no injuries or arrests were reported in those centres.

In Java, members of the Papuan Students Alliance (Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua or AMP) in Surabaya, Jogjakarta and Bandung were joined at rallies by Indonesian civil society members.  Despite being under close surveillance by Police, the Java based rallies allowed to proceed unhindered, highlighting the disparity in rights to Freedom of Expression between Indonesia and its occupied colony of West Papua.

26 KNPB activists were arrested at dawn in Merauke prior to the rally, as they gathered on the steps of the local Immigration office making speeches, and were forcibly dispersed and arrested by heavily armed riot police. Police later arrested another 20 at the KNPB office in Merauke, according to Tabloid Jubi.

In Jayapura, activists were outnumbered by heavily armed police, which intimidated many supporters into waiting at the sidelines of the area. KNPB activists regardless pushed on with a peaceful demonstration at Imbi park in Jayapura.

The 17 KNPB activists held a moving but silent vigil symbolising the absence of free media and freedom of speech in Papua. Jayapura Chairman of KNPB Agus Kosay told West Papua Media “we chose a silent action, silenced with a black cloth, because Indonesia silences democracy in Papua”

Police then moved in and arrested all 17, who are still being held by Police at time of writing.

“We want to let the world see, (Indonesia says it is) a democracy but the democracy practised is in fact anti-democratic for Papua,” Kosay explained.

No Full Name Gender Occupation
1 Agus Kosay Male Chief KNPB Central
2 Bazoka Logo Male Spokesperson KNPB
3 Elieser Anggaingom Male Member
4 Regi Wenda Female Member
5 Ribka Komba Female Member
6 Jimi Boroay Male Member
7 Marice Mambrasar Female Member
8 Lazkar Zama Male Member
9 Isak Silak Male Student
10 Petrus Petege Male Student
11 Palina Pakage Wanita Member
12 Marten Suhun Male Member
13 Manu Moi Male Student
14 David Walilo Male Member
15 Deren Sorabut Male Member
16 Wilem Wandik Male Member
17 Tinus Heluka Male Member

Indonesian Police have regularly changed their at-times-wild allegations that Bourrat and Dandois – who openly admitted they were operating in West Papua without a highly restrictive and rarely granted Journalism Visa and reporting permit for West Papua – have variously been involved in subversion, illegal arms transfers, espionage, supporting armed groups, and part of a foreign conspiracy to undermine Indonesia. Despite the public slander campaigns in the media by the colonial Police forces in Papua, the final charge of “misuse of a visa” is clearly a backdown, at the same time as it is handing a gauntlet to the new administration of President Widodo.

An international campaign led by Paris-based Reporters without Borders has also called on Indonesia to immediately release the pair, saying they were engaged in nothing more that independent, legitimate journalism activities.   A petition launched by Reporters Without Borders and the Bourrat and Dandois support committee has been signed by more than 8,000 people worldwide.

Reporters Without Borders via a press release on October 15 “appeals to the Indonesian justice system, now responsible for their continuing detention, to release the two journalists and dismiss all charges.”

“Reporters Without Borders again calls for a display of leniency by the authorities in this case. Indonesia cannot pride itself on being the world’s third biggest democracy without respecting fundamental freedoms and human rights,” it said.

The Paris-based media safety organisation also highlighted Indonesia’s obligations to Press Freedom, by noting “As one of the latest countries to sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in 2006, Indonesia cannot ignore the UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 34, adopted in 2011.  This comment says that it is breach of the covenant to “restrict freedom of movement of journalists and human rights investigators within the state party (including to conflict-affected locations, the sites of natural disasters and locations where there are allegations of human rights abuses).”

West Papua Media network members have also been caught up in the Indonesian police and army crackdown since the arrest of Bourrat and Dadois, including several local personnel who have been subjected to repeated death threats from Indonesian intelligence agencies.   Over 24 of our network members were under various degrees of security threats within West Papua, with family members threatened for speaking with the French journalists.  West Papua Media had been providing legitimate journalistic fixing services to Bourrat and Dandois for interviews with civil society figures outside of the Highlands.  Protection measures have now been put in place, enabling network members to return to newsgathering tasks over the last week, after having operations and reportage severely curtailed by serious security threats and incidents.

Physical threats and active surveillance to WPM personnel were also extended to key members of it editorial staff in Australia, with Indonesian Police Spokesman Sulistyo Pudjo saying that WPM Editor Nick Chesterfield was also to be charged with Espionage and subversion, and would be seeking and attempting extradition to Indonesia.   West Papua Media is still exploring legal options against the Indonesian police for defamation and stalking by sending its agents to carry out illegal activities on Australian soil.

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One thought on “66 arrested, thousands rally for release of gaoled French journos, defying Police crackdown on calls to respect press freedom

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