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Human rights groups critical of Indonesia as location for World Press Freedom Day event

Indonesia is hosting a UNESCO World Press Freedom Day event in May, despite criticism from human rights campaigners over its policy of media blackouts and deportation of journalists from West Papua.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) conference in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, is entitled Critical Minds for Critical Times: media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

The four day event from May 1-4 celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, says UNESCO.

It is billed as a chance to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

The choice of location for the conference has been highlighted by campaigners concerned about the continuing banning of journalists and media censorship of human rights abuses taking place in Indonesian-controlled West Papua.

The Free West Papua Campaign has reported that it has received news of 200 Papuans arrested and tortured by Indonesian police at demonstrations taking place in the run up to World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd.

At least one local journalist was arrested and beaten during the crackdown, said the group. Reporter Yance Wenda, has released photos of his injuries. Wenda was reportedly surrounded and beaten by several police officers.

Reporters Without Borders(RSF) has called on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to keep his election promise to allow local and international journalists to operate in West Papua without obstruction or surveillance.

The latest deportations involve two French journalists who were barred from the island in March. Human Rights Watch condemned the move. Phelim Kine, the deputy director of the organisation’s Asia Division said: “The government needs to understand that blocking media access on overbroad security grounds doesn’t just deter foreign news reporting about Papua, it raises troubling questions about what the government might be hiding there.”

Indonesian police detained and deported the two reporters, who were filming a documentary for Indonesia’s Garuda Airlines, for lacking “necessary documents from related institutions”. The authorities have barred the journalists from returning to Indonesia for at least six months.

Mr Kine described “a glaring gap” between what was happening to journalists and the rhetoric of Indonesian President Widodo’s 2015 pledge to open up West Papua to foreign media. The reality is that journalists have been denied entry for at least 25 years and are still blocked from reporting what is happening there, says the organisation.

In 2016, the Indonesian government refused to admit French journalist Cyril Payen to West Papua following the broadcast of a documentary he made called “Forgotten War of the Papuans”.

In addition, two British Journalists were sentenced to two and a half months in prison in 2015 for violating the terms of their visas. Two French journalists were arrested while preparing a report in West Papua in 2014. Currently, Indonesia is ranked 130th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

In a statement issued to Lush Times, UNESCO defended its decision, saying it had a long-standing history of cooperation with Indonesia, especially since the beginning of the country’s democratic transition in the late 1990s.

“Its media landscape is dynamic and diverse, and there is an active journalistic community in the country promoting the rights of journalists. Indonesia has a modern press law and its Public Information Disclosure Act is seen by most as providing effective access to information. Its independent press council is highly respected both regionally and internationally,” said the organisation.

“UNESCO will continue to actively support Indonesia in further expanding opportunities for free, independent and pluralistic media across the country, and the organization will remain ever committed to promoting the free flow of ideas, in line with its constitutional mandate.”

The Indonesian authorities have been accused by various human rights organisations of imposing a media blackout to cover up their brutal occupation of the Pacific island nation of West Papua, close to Australia, for more than 50 years.

In August, a team of swimmers will cross Lake Geneva to hand deliver a global petition to the United Nations headquarters. It requests that the UN urgently addresses the human rights situation in West Papua and implements an internationally supervised vote.

Organised by The Free West Papua Campaign(FWPC) the petition says that in 2016 alone 8,000 people, including many children, were arrested for taking part in independence demonstrations or for raising the West Papuan flag.

Benny Wenda, a West Papuan independence leader living in exile in the UK, says

the Indonesian government has blocked a number of websites hosting the petition in West Papua and Indonesia. Despite this, it has already attracted nearly 25,000 signatures.

The Indonesian army said that the Indonesian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology had blocked a number of sites that spread the petition, said Wenda.

“People are literally risking their lives to collect signatures on the streets of West Papua and across Indonesia to make sure the UN hears them,” he said.

“It is our task to make sure their voices are joined with as many others around the world as possible, and that we get it to the UN.”

When Wenda was a child his village was bombed by the Indonesian military and many of his family were killed. Later he began to campaign peacefully against Indonesian occupation and was arrested, tortured and threatened with death.

The people of West Papua have one of the highest poverty rates globally and continue to be denied basic freedoms, says the FWPC.

Kidnapping, torture and murder by the Indonesian military and police have been well documented by a number of human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has described the bleak reality of the abuse of civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights in West Papua.

International and local human rights defenders are too often victims of intimidation, harassment and arbitrary detention, while exercising their right to freedom of expression in their struggle for justice and accountability, said the commission.

The situation in West Papua is fast approaching a tipping point, according to an Australian church group which visited last year and described ‘a slow motion genocide’ taking place in the country.

“In less than five years, the position of Papuans in their own land will be worse than precarious. They are already experiencing a demographic tidal wave,” says the Human Rights Fact Finding Mission report.

“Ruthless Indonesian political, economic, social and cultural domination threatens to engulf the proud people who have inhabited the land they call Tanah Papua for thousands of years,” it says.

The present violence and marginalisation endured by the Papuan people have their genesis in shabby dealings by international powers, says the peace commission’s report. This has enabled the Indonesian government to occupy West Papua since the 1960s without consent.

The visitors from the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, found large parcels of traditional tribal lands were being seized from West Papuans. The land was being taken for economic development by Indonesian and multinational corporations for a variety of  businesses, including oil palm and sugar cane plantations.

Indonesia also works with international companies to mine the gold and copper rich West Papuan mountains, an industry worth billions of pounds to the government and to the businesses.

Contamination from the mines has buried more than 160 square kilometres of formerly productive forest and wetlands, and fish have largely disappeared, according to a 2012 report by Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada.

“Papuans are right to be concerned about their future. They are in great danger of losing everything that makes them a people,” concludes the mission.

“The international community must act to stop security forces violence and increasing marginalisation of the First Peoples of West Papua. It must act to stop what many Papuans have called a slow motion genocide.”

Follow the Swim for West Papua Global Petition campaign at #LetWestPapuaVote & @BacktheSwim

"Papuans are right to be concerned about their future. They are in great danger of losing everything that makes them a people."

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