The United Nations has declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day. But one place where there is still no press freedom is Indonesian-occupied West Papua.
Local journalists are arrested and tortured. Foreign journalists are not allowed in, or strictly monitored. Even international websites supporting West Papuan independence are hacked, and shut down.
On April 11, the pro-West Papuan independence websites for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), its chairperson Benny Wenda, International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP), International Lawyers for West Papua (ILWP), and the Free West Papua Campaign (FWPC), were all hacked and shut down.
Mike Atkins, who works with the sites affected, said the attack was a huge 31 GBPS (billions of bits per second) and came from tens of thousands of sources.
“This is a very large co-ordinated attack that could only be organised by a state entity,” Atkins said. “A coordinated attack using tens of thousands of sophisticated sources at once is not something that can be done on a small scale or by someone without significant financial means.”
The recent banning of campaign websites, and threatening public statements made by government officials, indicates Indonesia continues to take action to quell the rising international support for West Papua. The country was illegally occupied by Indonesia in the 1960s in a breach of the West Papuan people’s fundamental right to self-determination.
"By attempting to block websites and restrict media, the Indonesian government is showing to the world that they have no respect for freedom of expression when it comes to West Papua. People in West Papua, in Indonesia and even abroad are now being targeted simply for helping to tell the world the truth about what is really happening in West Papua," Benny Wenda told Green Left Weekly.
On the World Press Freedom Index of 180 countries, Indonesia was placed 124th. Although Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo campaigned on a platform that included press reform, his presidency has been plagued by serious freedom violations, especially in regards to journalist restriction in West Papua.
Journalists who manage to get access to West Papua admit to censoring themselves due to threats of facing charges under the anti-blasphemy laws or the Electronic and Information Transactions Law.
Despite Indonesia’s frequent claims of its democratic status, Indonesian laws make all criticisms of the government's actions in West Papua illegal.
Such legislation makes it an act of treason to inform the public about West Papua’s independence claims, even though Indonesia’s constitution and articles 18 through 21 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights guarantees all global citizens the “constitutional liberties” of spiritual and political freedoms, such as freedom of thought, opinion, religion, conscience, word, and peaceful association.
In response to the hacking of West Papuan independence websites, Melinda Janki, a legal expert and co-founder of International Lawyers for West Papua said: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental right. It is essential to human dignity and it is guaranteed by international law. What is it about Papuan voices that Indonesia is so afraid of? What are they hiding?"
"No matter how many websites the Indonesian government hack and block, they cannot block out the truth,” Wenda says. “The world is finding out about what is really happening in West Papua and finding out about our legitimate struggle for self-determination and freedom. The truth is on our side and we are fully confident that the truth is more powerful than any lie the Indonesian government spreads."