Journalists and foreign NGOs banned from visiting Papua

JUBI, 22nd April 2012

During the course of 2010 – 2011, the Indonesian Government has restricted the number of foreign journalists who are given access to enter Papua and report on the situation there.  As well as journalists, a number of foreign NGOs have been prevented from functioning in West Papua.

All this was said in a report issued by the Faith-Based Network on West Papua, Franciscan International, Papua Land of Peace and the Asian Human Rights Commission which was launched at the P3W Aula in Padang Bulan on 21 April. The report states that in January 2011, Peace Brigades International (PBI) closed its operations in Papua and left Indonesia.

After working in the province for six years,  the lack of legality for its work and visa problems were among the factors that made it impossible for the PBI to offer protection for human rights defenders who were under threat. Two years earlier, in 2008, the International Committee of the Red Cross was ordered by the Indonesian Government to close its offices in Papua and Aceh..

The report also states that even though some foreign journalists were granted permits to vist many parts of Indonesia, access to Papua was restricted. Journalists who were granted access were followed and restricted in their activities. In May, 2010, the French journalist Baudouin Koenig was arrested by the Indonesian police because he was taking photos of a peaceful demonstration in the city of Jayapura. even though he was in possession of a journalist’s visa that permitted him to write  reports about all parts of Indonesia, including the provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Kristina Naubauer, the co-ordinator of the Faith-Based Network on Papua, said that up to this day, the world at large knows nothing about Papua because the Indonesian Government refuses to grant access to foreign journalists, to human rights activists and to other observers from outside Indonesia.

‘Up to this day, when we people from outside Indonesia give talks about Papua, no-one knows anything about Papua. People ask us, ‘Where is Papua?’  she said during the launch of the report about human rights in Papua in 2010 – 2011.

[Translated by TAPOL]

West Papua Report March 2012

West Papua flag

This is the 95th in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments, and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. This report is co-published with the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). Back issues are posted online at Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at If you wish to receive the report via e-mail, send a note to

Summary: A proposed U.S. sale of assault helicopters to the Indonesian military (TNI) would augment the military’s capacity to conduct “sweeping operations” against Papuans, especially against villagers who have for years suffered indiscriminate military attacks. The West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT), in comment, calls on the U.S. Congress to block this sale. Indonesian authorities continue to block efforts of respected international non-governmental organizations to work in West Papua. The international media freedom advocacy organization, Reporters without Borders, is calling on the Indonesian government to end its repression of journalist activity in West Papua. WPAT notes that impeding NGO activities in West Papua and restricting media are part of a deliberate government policy aimed at obscuring Jakarta’s repression in the region. The policy, developed by the Suharto dictatorship, continues. Papuans, demonstrating peacefully, rejected Jakarta’s latest plan to salvage its “special autonomy” policy and demanded a referendum. Jakarta’s trial of Papuan leader Forkorus Yaboisembut and others for organizing the Papuan Third National Congress (October 16-19, 2011) is off to a rocky start as prosecution witnesses prove ineffective in documenting the government’s case. The World Council of Churches has issued a “wake up call” to the international community regarding growing tension and rights abuse in West Papua. International Parliamentarians for West Papua launched its Australian-Pacific branch.


* Sale of U.S. Military Helicopters to Indonesian Military Endangers on Papuan Civilians
* Indonesian Authorities Stiff Arms NGO Efforts to Work in West Papua
* International Media Freedom Group Raises Alarm About Repression of Journalists in West Papua
* Papuans Reject Central Government Unit Established to Salvage Special Autonomy
* Jakarta Case Against Papuans Peacefully Calling for Papuans Right to Self Determination Encounters Problems
* World Council of Churches Issues “Wake Up Call” to The International Community
* Australian-Pacific Branch of International Parliamentarians for West Papua

As this report was being prepared pressure on the legal team defending the Papuans involved in the Papuan Third National Congress has increased. A particular target is lawyer Gustav Kawer. TAPOL has issued the following plea which WPAT strongly endorses:

On Wednesday, March 5, call +62 967 532640 and ask to speak to the Head of the Prosecutor’s Office Imanuel Zebua, or his representative. There should be somebody there who speaks English, but if not it shouldn’t be a big problem – as long as the name and the concern come across that should have some impact.

Sale of U.S. Military Helicopters to Indonesian Military Endangers Papuan Civilians

Indonesia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin told Antara that Indonesia intends to buy eight AH-64 Apache helicopters from the United States. The sale of the AH-64 helicopters to the Indonesian military (TNI) poses a direct threat to Papuan civilians who have been the target of TNI assaults for many years. TNI “sweep operations,” including one currently underway in the Central Highlands region, include attacks on villages and the destruction of homes, churches and public buildings. These TNI assaults, purportedly aimed at eliminating the poorly armed Papuan resistance, force innocent villagers from their homes. The Papuans either flee to neighboring villages or into the surrounding forests where many die cut off from access to their gardens, shelter and medical care.

The AH-64 is designed for air to ground attack. It comes with a night vision system and is armed with chain gun M230 30mm. It also is equipped with rocket pods.

These aircraft will substantially augment the TNI’s capacity to prosecute its sweep operations in West Papua and will almost certainly lead to much higher cost to the civilian populations long victimized by such operations. The U.S. Congress must be notified of major weapons sales and can object to them.

WPAT Comment: Provision of these helicopters to the Indonesian military would significantly expand its capacity to extend its notorious sweep operations into remote areas that are now effectively beyond the reach of TNI ground forces. A U.S. decision to dramatically enhance the range and effectiveness of TNI sweeps would cast the United States in the role of an enabler and collaborator in military operations targeting civilians. The U.S. Congress can and should block the sale of this weapons system to the Indonesian military.)

Indonesian Authorities Stiff Arms NGO Efforts to Work in West Papua

Employing bureaucratic subterfuge, including manipulation of visa requirements and refusal to issue travel permits, the Indonesian central government has prevented respected international non-governmental organizations from monitoring human rights developments in West Papua, providing protection for Papuan human rights workers and even from affording humanitarian services. In 2009, Jakarta forced the International Committee of the Red Cross to close its offices in West Papua.

In late 2010, Peace Brigades International (PBI), an organization devoted to protecting human rights advocates around the world, ended its activities in West Papua following years of dealing with visa obstacles thrown in its path by Jakarta. PBI’s good faith effort to negotiate an arrangement whereby it would staff an office in West Papua with Indonesian personnel failed.

The Dutch humanitarian organization Cordaid was also forced to end its activities in West Papua. A July 2010 directive from the Indonesian government ended the agency’s decades old work in the area of social development and economic empowerment for the poor. Indonesian authorities refused permission for Australia’s Caritas to place its personnel in West Papua. A recent Oxfam project in West Papua, intended to empower women, has operated under constraints imposed by Jakarta including refusal to allow non-Indonesian consultants of the organization associated with the project to travel to West Papua.

International Media Freedom Group Raises Alarm About Repression of Journalists in West Papua

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on February 10 called on the Indonesian government to ensure press freedom after a series of media freedom violations in West Papua.

Darma Sahlan, a journalist working for the weekly Monitor Medan, was found dead in a ditch in the village of Lawe Dua in Aceh province on February 5. RSF urged “the authorities to do everything possible to shed light on his death, and to not rule out the possibility that he was murdered in connection with his work.” The victim’s wife told local media (Serambi Indonesia) that her husband had had a heated phone conversation about one of his stories with someone a month before. An autopsy showed he had sustained a blow to the head from a blunt object and injuries to the face. Skid marks were also found near the body.

“They must also do what is necessary to guarantee the safety of journalists and freedom of information. We are very worried by the problems for journalists throughout the country and in West Papua in particular,” RSF said.

The group also also criticized the February 8 arrest in West Papua of Czech journalist Petr Zamecnik for taking photos of a pro-independence demonstration in Manokwari town in Papua region. The Czech reporter was subsequently deported. The demonstration protested the trail of prominent Papuans for their role in the peaceful convening of the “Third Papuan National Congress, October 16-19” (see report on the trial below). Photos of that demonstration from a separate source (see ) reveal a peaceful, colorful demonstration. Indonesia imposes strict visa regulations on foreign visitors to Papua and tight restrictions on foreign journalists looking to report from the region. In 2010, two French journalists were deported from Papua for filming a peaceful demonstration outside government-approved areas.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Indonesia 146th out of 179 countries in its latest Press Freedom Index.

WPAT Comment: Pressure on international NGO’s attempting to work in West Papua (see above), in conjunction with the pressure on international journalists, are key to Jakarta’s continuing strategy, developed under the Suharto dictatorship, to prevent the world from witnessing its repressive policies in West Papua.

Papuans Reject Central Government Unit Established to Salvage Special Autonomy

Papuans demonstrated in opposition to the creation of a special unit intended to implement Jakarta’s failed “Special Autonomy” policy. Papuans have widely rejected the policy after a decade of failed implementation. The special unit, the Papua and West Papua Development Acceleration Unit (UP4B), was the target of Papuan students demonstrations. UP4B has the backing of President Yudhoyono. (For discussion of this Unit, its purpose and leadership, see the West Papua Report for November 2011.)

Demonstrations were organized by Papuan students studying in Makassar, South Sulawesi, and in Jayapura (Port Nambay), the capital of Papua province. The students in Makassar, according to a Jakarta Post story contended that the new unit would not solve problems, but only create new ones, in part by providing opportunities for corruption as has the “Special Autonomy” policy itself. The February 20 Makassar demonstration was organized by the Student Solidarity Forum for Papuan People. The students reportedly called for a tri-partite dialogue to address problems in Papua to involving the central government, the Papuan people and Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, thousands of Papuans in Jayapura on February 21 also called for the disbanding of the UP4B unit in a demonstration before the Papua Peoples Assembly (MRP) building. The demonstrators in Jayapura, like the Papuans in Makassar the day before also rejected “Special Autonomy” but added a call for a referendum on West Papua’s political future.

Jakarta Case Against Papuans Peacefully Calling for Papuans Right to Self Determination Encounters Problems

The trial of Forkorus Yaboisembut and four others who organized the October 16-19, 2011 Third Papuan National Congress is increasingly lurching toward a juridical farce. The public prosecutor announced that he would pose criminal charges against Gustaf Kawar, one of the defendants’ principal lawyers.

The prosecutor appears to be reacting to an incident on February 24 in which Kawar rebuffed the prosecutor’s attempts to interfere with the defense team’s cross examination of police witnesses. The defense team confronted the police witnesses with various facts, including that the meeting had proceeded peacefully and that police had severely mistreated Papuans who had attended the Congress.

Earlier in the trail, the police whom the prosecution produced as witnesses proved to be less than effective. Six of these witnesses were unable to answer questions from the chief persecutor regarding the declaration regarding Papuan independence that was allegedly read out at the end of the conference nor could they say whether the five defendants had been involved in a criminal conspiracy to set up the Federal Republic of West Papua.

One of the witnesses who had been summoned was a member of the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP). Due to his membership in that body he was disallowed as a prosecution witness. The defense team successfully argued that inasmuch as the MRP is a cultural, and since the trial was related to the political aspirations of the Papuan people, that MRP member’s appearance might cause a conflict between the MRP and the Papuan people.

According to a lengthy report of the hearing in Bintang Papua, the police witnesses appeared not to know the defendants and were unaware of the declaration by Forkorus calling for the re-establishment of the Federal Republic of West Papua. According to Bintang Papua, the first witness, member of the Jayapura City police force, admitted that he did not know the identity of one of the accused, Agustinus Sananay Kraar.

World Council of Churches Issues “Wake Up Call” to the International Community

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Executive Committee recently issued a statement expressing concern over the escalation of violence in Tanah Papua (West Papua). The organization urged the Indonesian authorities to stop the killings of civilians at the hands of armed forces and protect the rights of Papuan people.

The statement highlights that the “tragic escalation in tension once again poses a wake-up call to Indonesia and the international community.” It insists that the “grievances of the Papuan people must be addressed without further delay.”

The report described how Papuans has suffered economic deprivation since the times of the Suharto dictatorship which developed a policy of “transmigration” whereby non-Papuans were transferred from other islands into West Papua,rendering Papuans a minority in their own land.

“Over the past several years the Papuan people have been demanding freedom of expression and the right to self determination, but the demands for their legitimate rights have been continuously suppressed by the Indonesian authorities,” reads the statement.

The statement called the churches to “provide long term accompaniment and also to be engaged in advocacy on peace and security for all Papuans in their struggle for the right to life and right to dignity.”

The statement was released during a WCC Executive Committee meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, which took place from 14 to 17 February.

Australian-Pacific Branch of International Parliamentarians for West Papua

The Australian Green Party, February 28, hosted the launch of the Australia-Pacific chapter of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP). The event took place in the Parliament House in Canberra and was attended by some members of the ruling Australia Labor Party. Their participation drew criticism of the Labor Party leadership. Acting Foreign Minister Craig Emerson had urged Labor parliamentarians not to attend. One Labor member of Parliament, Laurie Ferguson, who defied Emerson’s advice by attending the launch, called Emerson’s urgings as “unprecedented, ridiculous and ill-informed.”

He called the launch “overdue,” adding “We’re talking about a country where people get 15 years in jail for raising a flag, where on all common analyses of Indonesian society it is the second worst province in regards to longevity of people’s life, child, infant mortality, income levels.” Ferguson said that there are about 60 West Papuans being held as political prisoners and described allegations of heavy militarization of the province.

The launch was welcomed in West Papua. In Biak, demonstrators carried the banned morning star flag and signs in English welcoming the launch. They called the 1969 “Act of Free Choice,” the fraudulent exercise through which Indonesia annexed West Papua, “illegal.” Demonstrators also peacefully took to the streets in Jayapura and in Timika where demonstrators flew the flags of Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu.

In Fak Fak, at least ten Papuans were arrested on March 1 after peaceful February 28 demonstrations welcoming the formation of the IPWP chapter in Australia. The demonstrators also reportedly protested the formation of the U4PB (see above).

Back issues of West Papua Report

Full March 2012 report with graphics is here:

New Report Reveals Extent of Papua Human Rights Violations

Press Release from Tapol, Franciscans International, Asian Human Rights Commission and Faith Based Network on West Papua (FBN)

NGOs meet in Geneva to address their concerns on the situation of Human Rights in Papua

Geneva, 3 November 2011

 Following last month’s violent dispersal by Indonesian security forces of the Third Papuan Peoples’ Congress in Jayapura, Indonesia has been confronted with the full scale of human rights problems in Papua by the new Report ‘Human Rights in Papua 2010/2011’.[1] This was launched yesterday in Geneva, by the Faith Based Network on West Papua (FBN), Franciscans International (FI), and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

The Report portrays the bleak reality of the abuse of civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights in Papua in 2010 and 2011. The aim of the Report is to raise awareness of the human rights situation in Papua and to create in Papua a ‘land of peace’.

More specifically, the Report draws attention to the hardship faced by national and international civil society as well as by local human rights defenders who are too often victims of intimidation, harassment and arbitrary detention on the charge of makar (treason) while exercising their right to freedom of expression in their struggle for justice and accountability. The Report further denounces the policy of the Government of Indonesia aimed at discrediting, limiting and jeopardizing the work of international human rights organizations working in Papua, including denied access to international media through the manipulation of bureaucracy. As a result, certain international organizations are directly or indirectly forced to withdraw from the country, as was the case of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and Peace Brigades International (PBI).

With a view to presenting the Report and raising awareness on the recent tragic events, Franciscans International organised a round table discussion. This was attended by representatives of the Faith Based Network on West Papua, Geneva for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Papua Peace Network (JDP -Jaringan Damai Papua), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders TAPOL, World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), and the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia to the United Nations.

In response to the numerous issues and concerns raised during the discussion, the representative of the Permanent Mission of Indonesia made an official statement asserting that “human rights protection is a national priority”. Despite the appreciation for the participation of the Permanent Mission of Indonesia, this statement was visibly met with strong disagreement by NGOs. They attested that “Political statements are not enough to address human rights violations in Papua, since – the reality is -a climate of fear prevails in Papua”.

The NGOs present concluded by calling upon the Government of Indonesia to: Immediately release all political prisoners; Immediately cease intimidation, harassment and physical violence against human rights defenders, journalists, and religious leaders in Papua; to criminalise torture and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; ratify the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances; and to Start a genuine dialogue with national and international civil society.

For more information on the report Human Rights in Papua 2010/2011, please contact:

Kristina Neubaeur –Faith Based Network on West Papua, Coordinator

Francesca Restifo – Franciscans International, International Advocacy Director

Paul Barber – TAPOL, Coordinator: +44 7747 301 739;

Wong Kai Shing – Asian Human Rights Commission, Executive Director

1] Available at

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.

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