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West Papua Action Auckland letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs

West Papua Action Auckland - May 3, 2017

The following letter has been emailed to the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gerry Brownlee today, World Press Freedom Day.

It is outrageous that journalists are being threatened and beaten as they pursue their profession in West Papua. This is happening at the same time as Indonesia hosts an international World Press Freedom Day event and cannot be swept under the table. New Zealand has a responsibility to speak up for the freedom and safety of the journalists in West Papua. We should also be calling for free access to West Papua for international journalists.

See letter below.

For further information: Maire Leadbeater 09-815-9000 or 0274436- 957.

West Papua Action Auckland
Box 68-419

3 May 2017

Hon Gerry Brownlee
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Parliament Buildings

Dear Mr Brownlee,

We strongly urge you to take up the issue of threats and violence against journalists in West Papua with the Indonesian authorities. Today Indonesia is hosting World Press Freedom Day at the same time as grave abuses of press freedom take place in West Papua. This cannot continue.

As UNESCO marks World Press Freedom Day with a major conference in Jakarta, we hear to our distress of a police assault in Jayapura on a young Papuan journalist, Yance Wenda, of Jubi newspapers. We understand that Yance Wenda was observing a demonstration on 1 May when he was forcibly taken to the police station and beaten with a rattan cane. He sustained injuries to his torso, mouth and eyes despite carrying a legitimate letter of authorisation from his employer in his bag. To make matters worse, dozens of peaceful activists were arrested in Jayapura on this day.

In a second serious incident a few days earlier (April 28 2017), in Wamena, three TV journalists received death threats and had their cameras taken off them. The three were covering a District Court trial to do with election procedure violations and had the judge's approval to take pictures. Despite this, an unidentified group of people subsequently evicted them from the courthouse and forcibly seized their cameras. These events have been reported to the police but as we far as we know no action has yet taken place.

Sadly, this example of police brutality towards local journalists is nothing new in West Papua. In a four year period ending in 2016, 63 cases of violence against journalists were recorded by the Alliance of Independent Journalists. There were no sanctions for the police in any of these cases. Indigenous Papuan journalists in particular, experience great difficulty in covering events and in obtaining information from the security forces when a Papuan person has been detained or shot. Several publications have been banned.

We also remember Ardiansyah Matra'is, a journalist for Merauke TV, whose body was found in a river in 2010, not long after he had reported on plans for a new agri-business and on illegal logging involving police officers. The police claim he committed suicide, but the autopsy showed he had died before entering the river.

Despite the fact that Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced in 2015 that media restrictions on West Papua had been lifted, very few international journalists are able to enter West Papua and those that do are tightly monitored. Unsurprisingly, Indonesia has a low ranking on the Reporters without Borders (RSF) list; 124 out of 180 countries.

The combined impact of threats and harassment of local journalists and a virtual ban on international journalists has very grave implications for the state of human rights in West Papua. New Zealand cannot stand aside. We look forward to hearing of the steps you will take to advocate on behalf of intimidated journalists and freedom of the press in West Papua,

Yours sincerely,

Maire Leadbeater
(for West Papua Action Auckland)

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