Indonesia is ‘double-dealing’ on media freedom, says RSF

West Papuan journalist Yance Wenda documents his abuse at the hands of police on the eve of World Press Freedom Day after covering a peaceful demonstration in Sentani. Image: Free West Papua Campaign.

Reporters Without Borders has condemned what it calls Indonesia’s “double-dealing” as the nation hosts World Press Freedom Day while it continues to harass independent journalists in West Papua with impunity.

The Paris-based global watchdog’s call comes after Yance Wenda, a photographer for the local news website Jubi, was arrested and beaten by police yesterday, while he covered a peaceful demonstration in Sentani, a suburb of Jayapura, West Papua’s largest city.

After being held for four hours, Wenda told the BenarNews website that the police began hitting him with “hands, guns and cane” without giving him a chance to show them his media assignment letter.

Jayapura police chief Gustav Urbinas acknowledged that Wenda was arrested, but denied that the police hit him. Wenda nontheless took photos of his injuries and posted them online as evidence of the police brutality.

“We firmly condemn the police violence against Yance Wenda and we call for an investigation so that both the perpetrators and their superiors, who endorse their brutality, can be brought to justice,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of Reporters San Frontiéres (RSF) Asia-Pacific desk.

“Indonesia is in the bottom third of the 2017 World Press Index and this beating, the latest in a long series of attacks on media freedom in West Papua in recent months, constitutes yet further evidence that it did not deserve to host the World Press Freedom Day celebration.

“UNESCO and all the political figures gathered in Jakarta must condemn the violence and ask President Joko Widodo to stop playing a double game that consists of promoting media freedom with the international community while continuing to crack down in West Papua.”

Media freedom lacking
Indonesia is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index that RSF published on April 26. It is not unusual for both local and foreign journalists to be threatened anonymously or by the authorities and to be forced to censor themselves, RSF said.

Last week, police in West Papua seized TV reporter Richardo Hutahaen’s camera and deleted its contents. Hutahaen, who heads an association of Papuan TV journalists, and two colleagues also received death threats after covering a court hearing on a dispute between local politicians.

Due to the alarming media freedom situation in West Papua, the harassment of journalists and the frequent refusal to give press visas to foreign journalists, human rights organisations plan to protest during the events organised by UNESCO and the Indonesian government.

The aim of the protest is to press the international community to react. RSF has expressed its support for the Legal Aid Centre for the Press (LBH Pers), which organised a public discussion on media freedom in West Papua yesterday.

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Foreign media are usually prevented from working in West Papua and are kept under close surveillance on the rare occasions when they are allowed to operate in the Indonesian-ruled region.

In March, French journalists Franck Escudie and Basile Longchamp were deported after arriving in West Papua to film for a documentary. Another French journalist, Cyril Payen, was refused permission to return Indonesia in 2016 after France 24 broadcast a documentary he made about West Papua, entitled ‘Forgotten War of the Papuans.’ Payen had obtained all the necessary authorisations before visiting West Papua to film for the documentary in 2015.

‘Open the door’
Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie called on the Indonesian authorities to “honour” the president’s promise and “open the door to genuine press freedom and an end to human rights violations against journalists and the indigenous Papuan people.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Press Council has issued a call to all media organisations, editors and journalists in the country to stand firm against what it said is “the alarming erosion of access to information, privacy and protection of sources”.

“In light of the litany of threats to free speech, press freedom and to journalists themselves, it is now, more than ever, time for media outlets to work energetically and cooperatively together with the Australian Press Council to safeguard these pillars of our democracy,” said Council Chair David Weisbrot in a statement.

Indian journalist attacked 
Similar causes for alarm were issued in India, following a police assault on The Quint reporter Meghnad Bose on Monday, May 1 the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has subsequently called for Indian authorities to identify and discipline the New Delhi police officers who assaulted Bose.

“Authorities should swiftly discipline the police officers responsible for assaulting Meghnad Bose simply for doing his job,” CPJ Asia Program Director Steven Butler said from Washington, D.C. “The police should train officers to protect the legal activities of journalists, and not to harass them.”

Pacific Media Watch sources on the ground in Indonesia said police are expected to try and stop the West Papua protest at World Press Freedom Day today.

Video: Milda Emza/UNESCO TV. 

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