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Indonesia's Papua hits rock bottom for press freedom

UCA News - September 2, 2023

Press freedom in Indonesia's predominantly Christian Papua province is now the worst in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation, according to a recent survey.

Papua had the lowest ranking at 64.01 percent on the country's press freedom index, down sharply from 75.57 percent last year, the Indonesian Press Council said at the release of the survey on Aug. 31. Neighboring West Papua province fell from 69.23 percent to 68.22 this year.

This data is not surprising, considering the increasing violence in the Papua region in recent years which has impacted civil liberties, including the press, said Father Bernard Baru from the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of Jayapura diocese.

Jayapura is the capital and largest city in Papua province.

He said limited press freedom in Papua means the media generally only report information conveyed by official sources "and often this is conveyed systematically."

"The lack of commitment to press freedom is also evident from the closed access to foreign journalists in Papua," he said.

When Indonesia gained independence from the Netherlands, Papua remained under Dutch control. Indonesia launched an armed campaign in 1961 and, with US backing, took control of it two years later. In 1969, a UN-mandated vote was held which was widely criticized as only 1,022 Papuan leaders, supervised by Indonesia, were allowed to vote.

A pro-independence insurgency known as the Free Papua Movement (OPM) has been spearheading an armed campaign, which continues to this day.

The resource-rich restive area includes the world's largest gold mine, as well as extensive sources of natural gas, minerals, timber and palm oil and is mostly Christian, as opposed to almost all other regions in the country which are mostly Muslim. Indonesia is divided into 38 provinces.

An editor-in-chief of a local media outlet based in Papua and who did not wish to be named said journalists in the province are in a dangerous position.

"On the one hand, we are in the middle of an armed conflict. So, every choice we make always carries a risk," he said. He said his news portal "is acting pro-government" because of concerns about "our security and sustainability."

Rosis Adir, a Catholic journalist and editor-in-chief of Floresa.co, a news outlet based on Flores Island in Catholic majority East Nusa Tenggara province, said he has faced cyber attacks several times. They included the hacking of his social media accounts, he said, adding that physical violence against journalists has now "metamorphosed into digital violence."

"The perpetrators are using non-state instruments, such as hackers, but in practice, they are controlled by the apparatus," he said.

He said other local media on Flores were also subjected to a series of cyber attacks last year.

This year, they are being targeted for publishing a news item questioning the neglect of residents' rights when they were evicted for a road construction project inaugurated by President Joko Widodo.

This is the first time Indonesia's national press freedom index has suffered such a jolt. Since 2018, the national index recorded periodic increases until last year.

Papua's spectacular index fall contributed to an overall fall for the country from 77.87 percent last year to 71.57 percent this year.

Atmaji Sapto Anggoro, a Press Council commissioner, said the latest survey measured press freedom conditions from 20 indicators in three categories – physical, political, and economic and legal.

He said the decline occurred in indicators such as freedom from violence, freedom from intervention, criminalization and intimidation of the press.

He noted that violence against the press is a serious problem that occurs in many regions through physical and non-physical means.

Meanwhile, in some regions, powerful financial groups are "cooperating" with journalists to publish "paid news" from regional governments.

"Using state funds as the main source of income," makes the media "vulnerable to being co-opted by the interests of local and regional governments," he said.

"The index shows that the narratives currently appearing in the media in Indonesia do not properly record the reality on the ground, because, practically, the press is not free, but controlled," Baru the priest told UCA News.

Source: https://www.ucanews.com/news/indonesias-papua-hits-rock-bottom-for-press-freedom/10246