By David Robie
When Papuan journalist Victor Mambor visited New Zealand almost nine years ago, he impressed student journalists from the Pacific Media Centre and community activists with his refreshing candour and courage.
As the founder of the Jubi news media group, he remained defiant that he would tell the truth no matter what the risk while facing an oppressive and vindictive regime.
“Journalists need to break down the wall and learn freely about our struggle,” he said in a message to New Zealand media via an interview with Pacific Media Watch.
Now the 49-year-old journalist and editor finds that the risks are growing exponentially as his media network has expanded — with an English language website and Jubi TV becoming add-ons — and the exposure of his networks have also widened.
He writes for the Jakarta Post, Benar News and contributes to international news services. Two years ago he was also co-producer of an award-winning Al Jazeera 101 East documentary about the plunder of West Papuan forests for oil palm plantations.
But last week the timing was impeccable over his latest award, the Oktonianus Pogau Prize for courageous journalism. It came just eight days after a bomb blast had happened in the street outside his Jayapura home.
The blast has been described as a “terror” attack as a warning over his journalism.
Police are investigating but nothing of substance has been reported so far.
Less than two years ago, on 21 May 2021, another (of many) attempts were made to intimidate Mambor — a glass window in his Isuzu car was smashed and the backdoor and lefthand door spray-painted while the vehicle was parked outside his house in Jayapura.
No prosecution, or even an arrest of a suspect.
“This act of terror and intimidation is clearly a form of violence against journalists and threatens press freedom in Papua and more broadly in Indonesia,” said Lucky Ireeuw, chair of the Jayapura chapter of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) at the time.
“It is strongly suspected that the terrorism suffered by Victor is related to reporting by Tabloid Jubi which a certain party dislikes,” he added without being more specific.
Mambor was actually born at Muara Enim, Sumatra in 1974, the son of Rachmawati Saibuna and John Simon Mambor, a poet from Rasiey, Wondama Bay. His father was also a leader of the Papua Presidium Council and he died as a political prisoner in Jakarta in 2003 at the age of 55.
Presidium chair at the time was chief Theys Eluay, who was murdered by Indonesian soldiers in the following year at Sentani, Papua. Eluay was a colleague of John Mambor.
Victor Mambor often quotes his father, saying: “Be proud of yourselves as Papuans who have never begged in their rich land.”
The Pantau Foundation began awarding the Pogau prize for courage in journalism in 2017 to honour the bravery of the founder of news media Suara Papua, Oktovianus Pogau.
A Papuan journalist and activist born in Sugapa on 5 August 1992, Pogau died at the age of 23 in Jayapura. The award is given annually to commemorate his bravery.
Pogau reported on violence against hundreds of indigenous Papuans during the Third Papuan Congress in Jayapura in 2011. At the time, three Papuans were killed and five jailed on treason charges — but no Indonesian official was questioned or punished.
Frustrated by the fact that hardly any Indonesian news media were reporting these human rights violations, Pogau launched Suara Papua in 2011.
Speaking for the Pantau Foundation, human rights advocate Andreas Harsono delivered this citation in part:
“Victor Mambor’s decision to return to his father’s homeland and defend the rights of indigenous Papuans through journalism — as well as being steadfast in the face of intimidation after intimidation — made the jury agree that he was a courageous journalist.
“Victor Mambor’s name was recently mentioned in the media after a bomb was detonated outside his house on January 23 in Jayapura. Mambor suspected the terror was related to Jubi’s coverage of the murder and mutilation of four indigenous Papuans from Nduga in Timika in October 2022, when four soldiers were charged with “premeditated murder” . . .
“Victor Mambor grew up in Muara Enim until he graduated from SMAN 1. In 1992, he moved to Bandung, where he later worked as a journalist for Pikiran Rakyat daily. In Bandung, he was mentored by Suyatna Anirun, an actor and director from the Bandung Study Theatre Club.
“In 2004, after his father died, young Victor Mambor decided to work as a journalist in Jayapura. He was appointed editor of Jubi, later general manager, expanding into television and using drones.
“On his blog, Victor Mambor posts important texts he created or translated between 2005 and 2017, including the abduction of Papuan children to Java and his criticism [about] Jakarta journalists’ perspectives, which often only talk about Indonesian nationalism and not giving much space for Papuan perspectives.
“In May 2015, Victor Mambor interviewed President Joko Widodo in Merauke about restrictions on foreign journalists entering Papua since 1967. Jokowi replied that all foreign journalists were free to enter Papua without restrictions.
“Ironically, to this day President Jokowi’s statement has not come true. Foreign journalists are still restricted from entering Papua.
“In 2019, together with several journalists in Pacific Island countries, he founded the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum (MMFF).
“Mambor has also increased coverage of the Pacific region through Jubi, a natural thing for Papuan media, as well as working with media outlets such as Radio New Zealand, Solomon Star, Vanuatu Daily Post, Melanesia News, Fiji Times, Islands Business, Cook Islands News, Post-Courier, and Marshall Islands Journal.
“Victor Mambor was one of three co-producers of an investigative video entitled Selling Out West Papua broadcast by Al Jazeera in June 2020. He collaborated with Mongabay, the Gecko Project and the Korea Centre for Investigative Journalism.
“This was about how a South Korean company, Korindo, seized land and destroyed Papua’s forests. The documentary makers received the Wincott Award for video journalism.
“On May 21, 2021, Mambor was intimidated. His car glass was broken, and the door was spray-painted, while parked at night in front of his house in Jayapura. The police have yet to find the perpetrators of this vandalism.
“In September 2021, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, issued an annual report on international cooperation in the field of human rights. Guterres named Victor Mambor as one of five human rights defenders who frequently experienced intimidation, harassment and threats in covering issues in Papua and West Papua provinces.
“Yayasan Pantau calls on the Indonesian police, especially in Papua, to keep Victor Mambor safe, and to find the people who damaged his car and placed a bomb in front of his house.”