'Despite Jokowi's pledge, Indonesia not honoring vow to allow media access to Papua'
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia is failing to allow free access to all foreign journalists to Papua despite a pledge by President Joko Widodo to lift reporting restrictions in the restive eastern region, Human Rights Watch warned Wednesday, November 11.
Widodo announced in May that decades-old curbs on overseas media reporting from Papua, where poorly armed independence fighters have for years waged a low-level insurgency against the central government, would be lifted with immediate effect.
Applying to report in Papua has long been a complex process, with permission rarely granted due to security concerns and the government's long-running suspicions about foreigners' motives in visiting the heavily-militarized, underdeveloped region.
Widodo's move was praised as evidence that Jakarta was loosening its tight grip. But in a new report, Human Rights Watch said there had not been a "genuine opening" of Papua to the foreign press, and the process for applying to go there "remained opaque and unpredictable at best".
The leader's announcement was not followed by an official presidential directive and triggered a backlash among those in the government and security forces opposed to the change, said the report.
"We have seen that elements of the Indonesian government are failing to deliver in the president's commitment to open Papua," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
He said the lack of a written order had created a "huge grey zone" and the bureaucracy was continuing with "business as usual" in the Papua region, which comprises two provinces, Papua and West Papua.
In addition, following the announcement, "we've had a parade of senior government and military officials express intense opposition and hostility", added Kine.
There have been some small signs of progress. At least three applications have been approved since the announcement, although most after some months waiting, according to Andreas Harsono, HRW Indonesia researcher.
But a London-based journalist has not received any response to an application, and a French journalist who travelled there had to obtain a special travel permit and give a detailed coverage plan, while activists she interviewed were briefly detained following her visit.
There are still flare-ups of violence in Papua, where insurgents are fighting on behalf of the mostly ethnic Melanesian population, and Indonesian troops are regularly accused of abusing villagers in the name of anti-rebel operations.
Jakarta took control of Papua, which forms half of the island of New Guinea, in 1963 from former colonial power the Netherlands. – Rappler.com