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Concerns about attacks against media reporting on West Papua issue

ABC Pacific Beat - June 1, 2021

Hellena Souisa – Tensions have been rising in the past month, between pro-independence campaigners and the military in Indonesia's eastern most provinces of West Papua and Papua that share a border with Papua New Guinea.

During that time they have been frequent internet blackouts, making it hard to get up to date information out of the contested region.

But the internet problem is only part of the story.

Journalists attempting to cover the West Papua issue are facing growing threats against their work.

Victor Mambor is a journalist and the chief editor of Jubi Tabloid, a local online media in Indonesia's Papua Province says, he became a target of intimidation in late April.

He suspects the alleged attack, which broke his car's windscreen and windows, related to news they had recently covered.

"There was a report by Jubi that quoted ordinary citizens, about a teacher who was shot in Beoga. Unlike other media which only included statements from the police or the army, our sources there, who were civilians, said that the teacher who was shot was usually seen carrying a gun," Mr Mambor said.

He said he wrote the story after going through the process of verification and clarification.

"But it seems that not everyone's happy with that. So they accused us of provoking and spreading hoaxes," Mr Mambor said.

The alleged attack on his car wasn't Mr Mambor's first experience with intimidation during his more than 20 years working as a journalist in Papua but he says the way threats are made is shifting from direct physical and verbal abuses to terror and intimidation.

The Alliance of Independent Journalists said Victor Mambor is one of at least 114 cases of violence against journalists in Papua over the last 20 years or between 2000 and 2021 but the number is most likely much higher since many journalists are scared to report it.

Erick Tanjung, the Alliance's advocacy division head, says the cases range from people being doxed on social media to death threats.

"There is one journalist we advocated for. She was terrorised because she reported the killings of civilians in Intan Jaya, then after the news aired on Al Jazeera, she was intimidated, she was doxed on Twitter, she received death threats messages through her phone and WhatsApp," Mr Tanjung said.

There's concern that police officers are among those threatening journalists.

Erick Tanjung says seventy per cent of the attacks reported to the alliance in the past year were committed by police.

The problem was recently acknowledged by a senior official in Indonesia's National Police, as part of World Press Freedom Day, although he didn't specifically refer to Papua Province.

Senior Commissioner Ahmad Ramadhan, apologised but also called on the public not to generalise, claiming it was just few police officers out of a total of 400,000 officers in Indonesia.

He said police are reminded that journalists' work is protected under the Press Law.

But some question the government's commitment on the issue including Emanuel Gobay, the head of the Papua Legal Aid Institute which advocates for media workers who've faced threats and intimidation.

Mr Gobay says that ongoing violence in Papua, as well internet cuts at crucial times are violations of Indonesia's constitution, as stated in article 28 which talks about human rights, which includes the right to access information.

"What we see in Papua now is that the state through the government led by President Jokowi does not carry out human rights commitments as recommended by the constitution, so we think there is a systematic and structural omission in carrying out the constitution," Mr Gobay said.

Dr Ken Setiawan, a researcher at the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, agrees that citizens' rights to access information are being breached in Papua.

Dr Setiawan has been researching the issue since the first mass internet black out in 2019, and she is worried that the intimidation and internet issues is having a negative impact on the quality of news reporting.

She would like to see the government introduce an independent organisation that can monitor the situation.

"But even a body like this would, I believe face significant challenges and that has to do with the fact that the broader context of the conflict," Dr Setiawan said.

But journalist Victor Mambor believes there is one other thing that would make a difference namely quality journalism in Papua which cover all sides and not citing only one side of a story.

"Almost all are only citing security forces. I think this is unhealthy. We will not be able to resolve the Papuan conflict if the narrative is only from one side," Mr Mambor said.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/radio-australia/programs/pacificbeat/west-papua-media/1336803