AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): The spokesperson for the main journalists union in New Zealand today criticised the Indonesian blocking of access for international journalists in the West Papua region but says he is even more concerned about the "intimidation" of local Papuan journalists.
Brent Edwards, convenor of the EPMU's Print and Media Industry Council, told Pacific Media Watch the lack of access for international journalists has been a "big concern".
“But as important, if not more important, is the treatment of journalists in West Papua," he said.
"How free are they to go about their business of reporting free from fear of intimidation or government heavy-handedness?"
A global appeal, being launched today by the London-based Indonesian human rights organisation Tapol, is calling for President Joko Widodo to give "free and open access" to "international journalists, humanitarian organisations, and human rights observers into the two provinces of Papua and West Papua.
With the plight of self-determination for the West Papuan people, Edwards said the Indonesian authorities were trying to "clamp down on any expression of that particular view".
“I know, talking to one or two West Papuan journalists that I’ve met, they clearly do their job under tremendous difficulty and it takes quite a lot of courage on their part to do the job," he said.
"It forces them to adopt some level of self-censorship to try and avoid in order to keep publishing or broadcasting".
Human rights' abuses
Restricted access also affects human rights' groups entry into the region.
The Pacific Media Centre's director, Professor David Robie, himself wearing a black "free West Papua" tee-shirt, condemned the Indonesian "media blackout" and described changes by Indonesian authorities to allow a handful of selected Western journalists from Jakarta to visit Papua as being designed to "delude neighbouring countries".
He had written on West Papuan issues for several years and had never been allowed into the region.
But he added that there been a shift in public information and while mainstream media in New Zealand had not caught up with the West Papua issue, social media and citizen journalism were creating a "global groundswell".
He was one of the signatories to the international Tapol letter.
Amnesty International New Zealand activism support manager Margaret Taylor said the region was a "very closed shop", with the organisation having been denied access to the West Papua region since 2002.
Taylor said when media or observers are not allowed access, "grave human rights abuses occur".
“Peaceful protest in Papua can end up getting you killed and or severly injured, and if you survive the experience you could end up in prison for decades, " she said.
“There is brutal repression regularly at the hands of military and police and because they go unobserved, they act with impunity".
'Public right to know'
Allowing international journalists entry into the West Papua province meant "the public's right to know is respected".
Edwards said: “If their right to know is to be respected, then journalists have to be free to move around and report as they wish without fear or favour.
“Until that happens, there will be ongoing suspicion about Indonesia and its motives there."
Taylor said entrance for human rights groups and observers was "vital because in the darkness, bad things happen".
“Human rights’ observers and the media act as a great dose of sunshine and they put a spotlight onto the abuses."
Taylor said another main reason to get into the provinces, was to observe that President Widodo kept his promises.
"He made promises that he would open up access to Papua province and improve Indonesia’s human rights’ record, but there was no sign of improvement in this side of Indonesia at all".
For organisations like Amnesty International to do their job, Taylor said they needed to be "standing alongside" the Papuan people.
“Papuan journalists do put their lives and their livelihoods on the line for reporting and getting coverage out to the waiting world," she said.
“Let’s make sure their efforts aren’t wasted and then we can certainly add balance and weight to what they’re saying by spreading their message far and wide."
According to Taylor, international pressure from New Zealand was attracting the "world's attention".
“It is getting traction, the story is getting out there, people are aware of the issues," she said.
“Particularly here in New Zealand, we draw from a population, including Pacific and Melanesian people that say, well, 'hey, they’re our brothers and sisters, and there is an increasing awareness of and acknowledgement of that and there is a need to act."
Edwards said for journalists, pressures from neighbouring countries was "one way of providing support for local journalists".
"It's ensuring the Indonesian government knows the international community of journalists, at least, aren’t turning a blind eye to it and will continue to agitate for press freedom in West Papua".
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