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West Papua governor’s ‘unfounded’ pledge leads to petition to lift journalist ban

Victor Mambor

Victor Mambor of the Alliance of Independent Journalists is critical to the level of press freedom in West Papua. Image: JFCC

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Daniel Drageset

A petition to revoke the ban on media reporting from West Papua has been initiated by press freedom groups.

At the time of publication, the avaaz.org petition had only accumulated 237 electronic signatures.

The petition, which was launched recently, was initiated after the governor of West Papua said journalists would be allowed to enter the Indonesian-ruled region.

However, the Australian newspaper The Age reported shortly after the announcement that the promises of the governor appeared to be “unfounded, and that the same legal process of applying for a journalist visa to the region was still in place.

The Jayapura branch of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AIJ) confirmed journalists were still having difficulties getting permits to report from West Papua.

Journalists from New Zealand, the Netherlands, the UK and Australia have had to wait for three months to get a permit, according to AIJ.

“Even after they get into Papua some of them have to be accompanied by a government agent in doing their journalistic duty,” chairman of AIJ in West Papua, Victor Mambor, told Antara news agency.

‘Unclear’ policy 
Mambor said AIJ was particularly critical to the Indonesian press freedom policy, saying it was “not clear”.

“So far there has been no government regulation restricting foreign journalists from doing journalistic work in Papua.

“However, foreign journalists have complained they had been restricted by making it difficult for them to get the permit to enter Papua,” Mambor said.

He also said the government had deliberately created unclear regulations, so that authorities could interpret the legislation any way they wanted.

According to Mambor, the current policy could degrade the Indonesian ranking in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index.

In the 2013 index, Indonesia was ranked 139th of the 179 countries in the ranking – up seven places from 2012.

Reporters Without Borders placed the country in the ‘red’ category, the second worst out of the five categories, calling the press freedom situation “difficult”.

‘No improvement’ 
Although the World Press Freedom Index suggested Indonesia had improved from 2012, AIJ said there had been no signs that the government had listened to the “demand of [the] international community for greater access by foreign journalists” in West Papua.

According to Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Natalegawa, 35 foreign journalists were given access to West Papua in 2011 and 2012.

However, the journalists were not given freedom to perform their duties in the region, Mambor said.

“Seven of the foreign journalists were deported from Papua and most recently an ABC reporter had to be disguised as tourist to enter Papua,” he said.

Mambor said the foreign minister had pledged that no journalists would be barred from West Papua, but foreign journalists had nevertheless continued to face restrictions when entering the region.

Lifting of journalist ban claims ‘untrue’, say reports

Report on recent developments in West Papua

Daniel Drageset is the Pacific Scoop internship editor.