After protests, Indonesia lets journos into occupied West Papua

Banners at the Melbourne rally to allow journalists into West Papua, April 29. Photo by Chris Peterson.

"After international pressure, today the Indonesian President has claimed that all foreign journalists are now free to report in West Papua without travel restrictions,” the BBC reported on May 11.

“This is historic news as for 50 years the Indonesian government has banned foreign journalists from entering West Papua."

A global day of action on April 29 featured protests in several cities that called on the Indonesian government to allow free and open access into occupied West Papua for international journalists, humanitarian agencies and human rights groups.

Melbourne rally co-organiser Matt Gale said: “West Papua is one of the world’s most isolated conflict spots. For decades, indigenous activists campaigning for their rights have been arrested, disappeared, tortured and killed.”

Channel Nine quoted Indonesian President Joko Widodo on May 11, saying: “Starting today, we allow foreign journalists to go freely to Papua, as well as to other Indonesian provinces.

“It's time that we should think positively. There must be mutual trust that we've lost.”

Widodo also released five Papuan political prisoners who were serving jail sentences ranging from 19 years to life for an attack on a military arsenal in 2003 that killed two army soldiers.

Two French television journalists were sentenced to two-and-a-half months in jail last year for illegal reporting in Papua.

Benny Wenda, a spokesperson for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, told the ABC: “Security forces will have to change the way they have behaved for half a century.”

Free West Papua activist Ronny Kareni told the ABC: “We welcome this move. Indonesia knows they are under immense pressure for ongoing brutality and impunity and the political prisoners. That pressure has led him to make that call. There are currently 38 political prisoners in West Papua.”

On May 12, FreeWestPapua.org reported that people in Papua New Guinea had burned the Indonesian flag as Widodo left the PNG capital, Port Moresby, “in protest at the genocide and illegal annexation and colonisation of their brothers and sisters in West Papua”. It said seven people were arrested over two protests in the city.

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