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Order and Adat in the forests of West Papua

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The building of simple fences bring a new sense of order to the village of Syukwes, perhaps as a way to invite in or conjure services and progress – blog.castac.org/Jonathan

By Jonathan McLeod*

Papua is Indonesia’s poorest and least populated region, but, as they say, rich in natural resources.

It is developing quickly in the era of pemekaran, an Indonesian word that literally translates as “blossoming,” or “subdivision”. It describes the rapid proliferation of local government institutions that is happening throughout Indonesia, penetrating regions that just a decade ago were totally bereft of infrastructure or public services (McWilliam 2011).

Even in the few months that I have spent researching in the district of Tambrauw, on the Bird’s Head of New Guinea, I’ve watched the pipes being laid and the roads being built, slowly reaching out from the main coastal town to the mountainous interior. Throughout the rural regions of Papua, development and pemekaran are more or less synonymous, people seem to want it, and it’s happening quickly.

Whereas in the Suharto Era, or the New Order, economic progress and indigenous culture were considered mutually exclusive, Papuans are increasingly empowered to document and formalize indigenous rights, especially after a landmark legal decision in 2013 (The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Indonesia 2013).

Throughout Indonesia, regional and local governments are launching initiatives to incorporate customary land rights and local traditions, or adat, into policy and governance frameworks. Rather than this being a merely technical problem, it means there is a simultaneous push to “develop”, and yet also to revive adat and embrace cultural identity (Davidson and Henley 2007).

For decades in Kalimantan and Sumatra, massive deforestation and the disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples have gone hand in hand. So far Papua has mostly avoided a similar fate, but there is also no clear alternative model Papuans are following.

Sustainable development pathways like carbon credit trading and ecotourism are frequently discussed, but mostly still just a vision. Ambivalence ensues, but also the possibility of something new.

Inviting the state in

As autonomous as many of the tribes of the Bird’s Head still are, rarely do we see an effort to evade the state (Scott 2009). Rather, people are eager to create a more “Papuan” one (Slama and Munro 2015).

In Tambrauw, many villages nestled in the rugged forest terrain take days to reach by foot from the nearest dirt road or river. People in such places eagerly anticipate the arrival of infrastructure, yet also want to protect their forests from exploitation.

Parents send their children to the closest town or the port city of Sorong for schooling, where they live with relatives or in boarding houses. Or the whole family simply moves. Social and cultural changes accelerate as the next generation grows up in a bustling urban environment, increasingly reluctant to pulang kampung, or return to the village.

The main way that adat is transmitted in this region of West Papua is through traditional education or initiation, where boys or young men live in the forest for years at a time with a teacher, learning skills such as how to hunt, use plant-based medicine, perform rituals, and practice wuon, or sorcery.

Nowadays only a small minority of the boys in Tambrauw receive this education (there is a similar, though much shorter equivalent education for women). Most people seem to lament this fact, even as they readily embrace modern education, a cash economy, and consumer goods. It appears very difficult to combine the two, even though the core of their cultural identity – as they describe it –  is on the verge of disappearing.

Beside goods and services, roads bring what people refer to as pengaruh, or “influences.” Down the river and in the coastal communities, school children are considered more nakal, or naughty. Young men more commonly drink heavily, and fight. In general people feel less safe, and lament the disruption of calm, traditional village life, and the loss of adat.

There seems to be no guide and little established discourse on how to reconcile the gains and losses in the push to modernize.

Shortly after I moved to Syukwes, a small Abun village that is accessible only by river or on foot, the men starting building fences. In the older part of the village there is a cluster of traditionally built homes, with bamboo walls and sago palm roofs.

But the most visible manifestation of pemekaran in the interior is the recent construction of “permanent” houses – a standardized design using sawmilled wood, corrugated iron roofs, and oriented to face the “road”, which is now just a grassy lane.

Why was it so important to build the fences?, I wondered, and asked. They are primarily aesthetic, and do nothing to keep animals or people out of their yards. But they do neatly define boundaries and, along with the new houses, make Syukwes look a little more like a coastal town than a forest village.

One of the men told me: it’s to prepare for the asphalt road (which could be years away for arriving), and that “it will be easier for the government to inspect us.” This is a striking statement, considering how independent and egalitarian Abun people are in their daily lives, even compared to the other ethnic groups in the region.

As much as Abun value their cultural identity, autonomy, and the peacefulness of village life, they also enjoy the order modernity seems to promise, both in terms of services and, for a lack of a better word, the aesthetics.

Mapping tradition

Many outsiders with resources – particularly sophisticated conservation NGO’s backed by global climate change funding  – are encouraging and empowering people to embrace, document, and legally encode their traditions, which are now admired and considered an asset.

This is complicating both the future of development in the region as well as the evolution of Papuan identity. Currently the most concrete and technical outcome of the indigenous rights movement is the mapping of customary lands. This entails clan meetings where community members discuss and draw boundaries for clan territories and also the location of sacred places; once agreed upon, the territory is mapped with GPS units and later uploaded to a national database that eventually, it is hoped, the government will formally recognize in the course of development planning.

The mapping of customary land, as well as the recognition of an official clan leadership structure, is a new and much more systematic way of thinking about land, power, and social relationships in general.  Land rights – such as the building of a new house, clearing a forest garden, or hunting – is based on clan affiliation, but permission and actual use is informal.

At times it seems to me as if all roughly 4,000 Abun people are related in some way or another, and through their wide social networks (that also connect through marriage to adjacent tribes) people can ask a relative’s permission to enter and use an area of forest, even if they are not part of the same clan. Moreover, clan leadership until very recently has been unclear and weak, and tribal leadership essentially non-existent.

Abun traditionally live in small settlements, until at least World War II primarily in clusters smaller than what we would call a village (the word for “village” in Abun, as in many places in Papua, is borrowed from Indonesian), and they still frequently move about the landscape.

Men head out alone into the forest or travel to nearby relatives for weeks at time, often alone, unannounced, and simply because they feel like a change of scenery. My sense from talking to people is that many Abun enjoy the experience of the city, of traditional village life, and the quietude of the forest, so they simply move back and forth when they miss the benefits of one over the others.

It’s not difficult to imagine that a process of territorialization, with the precision of a GIS system and the power of nationally recognized laws, will change this dynamic, and the landscape itself. Nevertheless, people want security of land access in the face of social conflict, and the constant development pressure by the Indonesian government and outside business interests which have literally torn apart other regions of the country.

In other words, they are embracing the technological conversion of adat as the most promising way to both modernize and protect their land rights.(*)

*Jonathan is a PhD candidate in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and currently conducting fieldwork in West Papua, Indonesia on indigenous land rights and sustainable development planning.

Source: blog.castac.org

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Analysis

Grasberg’s waste management, has “always been controversial” : Freeport’s CEO

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Freeport-McMoRan Inc. dumps tens of millions of tons of mining waste into the Ajkwa River system – PUSAKA

Jayapura, Jubi – Every year, Freeport-McMoRan Inc. dumps tens of millions of tons of mining waste into the Ajkwa River system in Indonesia. The company has been doing it for decades, and is demanding the right to keep at it for decades to come.

The discharge of what are called tailings, the leftovers of mineral extraction, is perfectly legal under Freeport’s current contract with the government. But recently, after more than a year of tense negotiations over the terms of a new deal, Indonesia suddenly changed the rules: The Grasberg mine in the highlands of Papua province would have to operate by heightened standards. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really, considering most every other miner in the world has been forced or has elected to stop discarding tailings in rivers.

Freeport, though, has said that won’t happen at Grasberg. Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson has been blunt about it. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” he said in April. “You simply can’t say 20 years later ‘we’re going to change the whole structure’.” Grasberg’s waste management, he added, has “always been controversial.”

The tailings tussle is the latest twist in the complicated relationship between the mining giant and the Southeast Asian republic. How it plays out will have far-reaching consequences in Indonesia. Freeport is a major taxpayer and job provider and has built homes, schools and hospitals in one of the poorest provinces. But Grasberg has also long been a target for environmentalists, indigenous and separatist groups and human-rights watchdogs.

At stake for Freeport are reserves that Bloomberg Intelligence estimates to be worth $14 billion at the world’s biggest gold deposit and second-largest copper mine. Grasberg accounted for 47 percent of Freeport’s operating income in 2017, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“What happens at Grasberg has global significance,” said Payal Sampat, the mining program director at the mining watchdog-group Earthworks. “It involves some of the largest global players in the mining industry and one of the leading mining economies.”

Most countries have banned tailings deposits in waterways over concerns they can be toxic, destroying habitats, suffocating vegetation and changing the topography of rivers, causing floods. Most miners have said they’re against the practice regardless of local rules. The industry’s biggest, BHP Billiton Ltd., won’t “dispose of mined waste rock or tailings into a river or marine environment,” as the company put it in a statement.

READ ALSO Story Map : Enam pelanggaran lingkungan yang dilakukan Freeport

‘Environmental Burden’

Only two other industrial-scale mines — and a third, small operation — are known to get rid of tailings as Grasberg does, and they’re in Papua New Guinea, which occupies half of the island of New Guinea; Indonesia owns the rest, which is home to the Freeport-run mine. In recognition of risks that could leave “a massive environmental burden for future generations,” the practice has been phased out everywhere else, according to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization.

Jubi/Albertus Vembrianto

Freeport sees things differently. “As we have stated before, the tailings are benign,” said Eric E. Kinneberg, a spokesman, referring to the corporate website for a detailed explanation.

The Phoenix-based company maintains that much of the sediment in the Ajkwa River system downstream from Grasberg is caused by natural erosion, and that tailings pose no significant — or at least unexpected — threats. “There have been no human health issues or impact on the environment that wasn’t anticipated,” Adkerson said on a quarterly earnings call in April.

The company’s partner in the Grasberg complex, Rio Tinto Group, recently addressed concerns about waste removal. “Riverine tailings disposal is very, very far from best practice,” Chairman Simon Thompson told a meeting in London in April, perhaps highlighting one of the reasons Rio may be willing to sell its 40 percent interest to a state-owned company for $3.5 billion. A spokesman for the company declined to comment for this story.

Rio declined 1.4 percent in Sydney trading, as an index of the country’s largest energy and mining companies fell 1.2 percent.

‘No Realistic Alternative’

“If you think about it from Rio Tinto’s perspective, one of the biggest problems with this mine is the environmental issues. I think that’s an incentive for Rio to get out,” said Christopher LaFemina, an analyst at Jefferies LLC. “This is a critically important part of Freeport’s overall value. For Rio Tinto, it’s not.”

The problem for Freeport and Indonesia is that there’s no easy solution. “There has been no realistic alternative identified,” Thompson said. Freeport’s local unit studied 14 alternatives for tailings disposal — including dams and pipelines — and concluded all were too risky in a mountainous terrain prone to earthquakes and heavy rainfall.

As it is, the heavy ooze wends its way through glacier-capped valleys, descending almost 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to tropical lowlands and a 230 square kilometer deposition zone, where roughly half the tailings are parked. The rest flows on to a river estuary and the Arafura Sea.

“The company has sacrificed not just the river, but also the coastal area,” said Pius Ginting, coordinator of Action for Ecology and People’s Emancipation, an Indonesian environmental group.

50 Million Tons

According to Earthworks, Freeport sends more than 76 million metric tons of tailings and waste rock into Indonesian rivers every year. The company puts the 2017 figure at 50 million tons. Without spelling out precisely how the requirement should be met, Indonesia told Freeport that it would boost to 95 percent from half the amount of tailings that must be recovered from the river system, according to Adkerson.

That was a shock that sent Freeport’s stock tumbling after Adkerson revealed it on April 24. Shares have largely recovered as investors bet the government will fail to follow through.

The negotiations to secure the right to keep mining Grasberg until 2041 had already been complicated by an edict that foreign miners sell majority stakes in their assets to local interests. Rio’s apparent interest in divesting would ease that problem for Freeport, reducing how much it would need to unload.

Stunning Asset

POTAGER.ORG

Even if its share dropped below 50 percent, Freeport as an operator could still win big — Grasberg is a stunning asset, expected to produce more than 520,000 tons of copper in 2018 and more gold than any other mine. Of course, Indonesia’s tailings mandate may be a negotiating tactic, as some Freeport investors said they suspect. Ilyas Asaad, inspector general at Indonesia’s Environment & Forestry Ministry, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The company is holding its position: The discharge of tailings into the river system is an inescapable consequence of keeping the mine in operation. If the government backs down, it will be “a political decision,” said David Chambers, a geophysicist who runs the U.S. nonprofit Center for Science in Public Participation. “There aren’t many governments that are willing to sacrifice those kinds of environmental resources for the financial resources.”

Few investors have publicly seized on the tailings mess as a reason to shun Freeport. One was Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund, which in 2006 excluded Freeport from its investment universe and in 2008 sold its holding of about $850 million of Rio shares, citing Grasberg’s use of the river system to dispose of tailings.

“The spotlight has shone on these issues a lot more brightly in the last couple of years,” said Andrew Preston, head of corporate governance in Australia for Aberdeen Standard Investments, which owns shares in Rio and BHP. The “wake-up call,” Preston said, was the 2015 failure of a tailings dam at BHP’s Samarco iron-ore joint venture with Vale SA in Brazil. Billions of gallons of sludge escaped to travel hundreds of kilometers down the Doce river, killing at least 19 people and leaving hundreds homeless.

Jefferies’ LaFemina said investors are betting on the status quo in Indonesia. “In negotiations, different sides are trying to get leverage.” In the end, “I am not expecting there to be a significant change to how this asset operates.”

By Danielle Bochove and David Stringer

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Indonesia cracks down on peaceful independence movement in Papua

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By Joe Cochrane

Jakarta, Indonesia – Yanto Awerkion knew quite well that he would infuriate the local Indonesian authorities for organizing a meeting to discuss a petition for an independence referendum in the strife-torn Papua region — but he did it anyway.

“I was exercising my right to free speech,” said Mr. Awerkion, a senior official of the West Papua National Committee, a pro-independence organization, who said his ensuing arrest on accusations of treason was the third time he had faced charges for his political beliefs.

Yanto Awerkion when jailed last year – Supplied

The local police, however, did not see the case as a free-speech issue. He was arrested after the gathering in his hometown Timika, where he is vice chairman of the local branch of the independence committee, in May last year on charges of trying to overthrow the state. He was jailed for 10 months.

At his trial this March, Mr. Awerkion, 28, was convicted of treason under an archaic Dutch colonial law, but released on Easter Sunday for time served.

“During the trial, there was no proof I was involved in treason,” he said in a telephone interview after his release. “And I wasn’t. As a member of the young generation, I have to fight against injustices.”

Comparatively speaking, Mr. Awerkion got off lightly. At least three Papuans considered as political prisoners by human rights groups are serving lengthy prison sentences for promoting independence from Indonesia or raising the separatist flag of the armed Free Papua Movement in public. Dozens of others supporting the cause have been incarcerated in recent years.

Indonesia, despite its largely successful transition to democracy in 1999 after decades of authoritarian rule, continues to be criticized for the plight of its easternmost region of Papua — split into the provinces of Papua and West Papua. Despite being some of Southeast Asia’s richest regions in terms of natural resources, the two provinces remain among the country’s poorest.

Human rights groups have reported a long list of official abuses there, in the name of fighting a small, armed separatist movement. They include arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, official corruption, rigged local elections, and police and military personnel who use abusive tactics.

“They are using colonial laws to arrest people in modern, democratic Indonesia,” said Calum Hyslop, an Australian who is a longtime political observer of the Papua region. “They fail to understand the difference between freedom of speech and real acts of armed separatism.”

Indonesia’s Papua region lies on the western side of New Guinea Island, the eastern side being the nation of Papua New Guinea.

United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) leaders (L to R), Octovianus Mote, Benny Wenda and Rex Rex Rumakiek – Jubi

Indonesia annexed the former Dutch-controlled region in 1963, and took sovereignty after the 1969 Act of Free Choice, a vote on whether to remain part of Indonesia. Opponents say the voting was rigged, as only handpicked representatives were allowed to vote, rather than the entire population. There has been a small-scale armed rebellion ever since, most notably by the Free Papua Movement.

Mr. Awerkion’s organization, the West Papua National Committee, is not armed and is a nongovernmental organization supporting a referendum on Papua’s future.

Over the decades, the Indonesian government’s human rights record in the Papua region, formally known as Irian Jaya, has drawn widespread criticism. Pro-independence activists have been tortured, murdered or have gone missing, with no arrests or prosecutions. The recently released United States State Department report on Indonesia said of Papua: “The lack of transparent investigations continued to hamper accountability in a number of past cases involving security forces.”

Development in the region is further cause for concern. Papua Province is home to one of the world’s largest gold and copper mining operations, run by the Indonesian unit of the American mining giant Freeport-McMoRan, and a large natural gas plant in West Papua Province, run by a local unit of BP.

But some of the region’s demographics are comparable to sub-Saharan Africa, according to analysts, with an alarming gap between Papuans who live in coastal areas and those who live in the remote highlands, mostly only accessible by airplane.

Most Papuans live in rural areas, and poverty rates there are the highest in Indonesia, at around 41 percent, compared with only 5 percent in urban areas. Papuans have the highest rates of illiteracy in Indonesia, with around 25 percent of children not in school, and the region has the highest infant, child, and maternal mortality rates in Indonesia, while having the lowest basic child vaccination rates.

“When it comes to broader questions of human rights in Papua, the real violation relates to the complete lack of services in the countryside,” said Bobby Anderson, a researcher with the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. “Things like lack of health care, lack of education, with teachers no-showing at schools.”

Fishermen in West Papua in January. Despite being among Southeast Asia’s richest regions in terms of natural resources, the Papuan provinces are among Indonesia’s poorest.CreditBay Ismoyo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Indonesia has a detailed policy for mineral extraction, but they have no real policy for the people of Papua,” he said. “It’s like they’re not even citizens.”

After taking office in 2014, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia promised a new deal for the Papua and West Papua provinces, releasing some so-called political prisoners and promising an ambitious economic program. However, his own government has continued to enforce restrictions on foreign journalists visiting there.

The Papua region continues to be troubled. The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a Jakarta-based research organization, while noting that Mr. Joko had given more attention to the region than his predecessors, said in an October report, “Conflict there — among clans, between indigenous Papuans and migrants, between pro-independence groups and the state — remains high.”

Amnesty International has labeled three Papuans serving prison sentences as “prisoners of conscience,” but notes that hundreds of other human rights and pro-independence activists are routinely arrested and briefly detained, including more than 40 members of Mr. Awerkion’s organization just last month.

Papuans Behind Bars, a separate nongovernmental organization, has documented more than 40 people sentenced to various terms in prison under the treason law.

Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said that the Indonesian government’s “focus on development and putting aside human rights in Papua is a wrong approach to deal with the complexity of problems.”

Earlier this month, just after Mr. Awerkion was released, the website of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, the main international partner of Mr. Awerkion’s group, was hacked, as were the websites of other pro-referendum Papuan organizations. They say a state-sponsored actor was likely behind the hacking attacks.

For his part, Mr. Awerkion is not letting his jail time affect his independence cause, saying a fourth arrest would mean nothing to him.

“Please tell all the people out there to keep a watch on the Papua issue,” he said. (*)

This article appears in nytimes.com on June 3, 2018, with the headline: Indonesia Clamps Down on Simmering Independence Effort in Papua

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PMC director condemns ‘targeting’ of journalists and silence on West Papua

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Activists, acdemics and journalists at the Pacific Media Centre WPFD seminar last night. Image: PMC

By Jean Bell

An alarming number of “targeted” journalists being killed and West Papua media for independence were just some of the topics covered in a wide-ranging seminar by the director of the Pacific Media Centre last night.

Professor David Robie called for the media, universities and journalism schools to take their Pacific “backyard” more seriously and not just wait for crises to happen.

The seminar was in marking May 3 – World Press Freedom Day. This year’s conference is in Accra, Ghana.

Dr Robie cited the number of journalists killed while working in 2017 and called journalism an increasingly “dangerous occupation”.

“Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) [Reporters Without Borders] statistics showed 65 journalists were killed worldwide in 2017,” Dr Robie said. Of the 65 journalists killed, 7 of these people were so-called citizen journalists.

This number of casualties varied between media freedom monitoring agencies depending on the definitions of journalists and media workers counted in the statistics, he said.

Although this statistic showed a drop from the previous year, the growth of “hatred” for media and targeting of journalists was a worsening problem.

“This is a dire situation that is getting worse.”

On top of the killings, the Paris-based statistics showed that 326 journalists were detained in prison and a further 54 were being held hostage.

Dr Robie said use of the term “citizen journalist” was problematic, as it gave an impression of untrained journalists working without an ethical basis. In fact, many professional journalists were becoming “citizen” journalists tactically and using social media to defeat mainstream media “gags” such as relating to the Melanesian region West Papua inside Indonesia.

“There are more and more independent journalists that are disillusioned” and publishing untold stories on their own blogs.

One such journalist is Papua New Guinea’s Scott Waide, with whom Pacific Media Centre is collaborating with, published many articles by independent journalists and civil society people on his blog My Land, My Country.

Dr Robie also talked about the latest RSF Press Freedom Index and its findings on the Asia-Pacific region.

A Filipino radio journalist, Edmond Sestoso, was shot last Monday – three days before Press Freedom Day – and died the next day. He was murdered in a drive-by scenario by a gunman on a motorcycle. According to Dr Robie, it is a “very common way of doing it” in the Philippines.

World Press Freedom Day 2017

In 2017, Dr Robie was invited to go to the week-long UNESCO World Press Freedom Day media conference in Jakarta, Indonesia.

He was one of just two New Zealanders at the conference out of the 1500 people attending the WPFD conference. He spoke at a journalist safety academic conference at WPFD but was also a guest keynote speaker at an alternative “Free Press in West Papua” conference organised by Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).

Dr Robie said it was “astonishing” that there were not more people from New Zealand present at WPFD and said it showed how “appalling” New Zealand’s interest in international affairs was with an information gap in coverage of Asia-Pacific issues. The other New Zealander present was Mary Major, executive director of the New Zealand Media Council.

Dr Robie described the week as “challenging” and “inspiring”.

“I was representing AUT university and also entering a fraught situation.”

Independent Indonesian journalists were planning to protest against the treatment of West Papua and make a showcase stand before the world’s press, said Dr Robie.

At the WPFD, there was a tight military and police security cordon which kept out West Papua protesters and prevented conference participants from joining the protests in solidarity.

While en route to Jakarta, Dr Robie was also invited to speak at a conference hosted by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, the last investigative journalism unit at an Australian university. This was closing under protest after 25 years on the “frontline”.

He was able to address West Papua issues there too.

“I’m an educator and a journalist … I have a responsibility to share my knowledge with as many people as I can about issues,” said Dr Robie, who is author of Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, mayhem and human rights in the Pacific.

West Papua plight ‘censored’

Dr Robie discussed Facebook recently wrongly “censoring” a 1995 photo of an armed West Papuan OPM guerilla and fellow tribespeople in traditional nambas (penis sheaths), pointing to the Pacific Media Centre coverage that sparked an RNZ Mediawatch story on the issue.

Photojournalist Ben Bohane, who has extensively covered conflict issues in the Asia-Pacific region, wrote a two-page article in the Vanuatu Daily Post in response to a piece about China and Vanuatu by The Sydney Morning Herald that had speculated about a “naval base” plan for a wharf aid project at Luganville, Espiritu Santo. Dr Robie said the Australian article was “scaremongering.”

“Ben Bohane’s article argued China was not the real concern,” he said. “The real threat in terms of stability and security is Indonesia, for which New Zealand media have a blindspot.”

When the PMC republished the Bohane article on its current affairs website Asia Pacific Report, Facebook links were removed. “I got a message saying the picture breached Facebook’s community standards.” While the Facebook “block” did not affect the actual article itself, Dr Robie said it limited the reach of an important article.

Dr Robie said he believed the photo censorship had more to do with “politics” rather than “nudity” and was undoubtedly an attempt by Indonesian sources to curb the debate regarding West Papua.

“It is not the picture that is the real issue,” said Dr Robie. He quoted from Ben Bohane’s latest message saying the censorship was ongoing in spite of Facebook saying it had lifted the block.

It is not the first time Facebook has censored an iconic photo that illustrates dire situations in the Asia-Pacific region. Dr Robie pointed to how Mediawatch raised the issue of how the social media platform in 2016 censored images of the “napalm girl” taken during the Vietnam War in 1973. This caused an international storm of protest.

WPFD in Indonesia – an irony

Dr Robie pointed out the irony over Jakarta hosting the WPFD 2017 conference in light of censorship and repressive activities by security forces in West Papua.

According to Dr Robie, Indonesia has a vibrant “plurality” of voices but forces were seeking to radicalise people, along with targeting journalists.

While President Joko Widodo had changed policy in 2015 to “allow foreign journalists into” West Papua after he was elected in 2014, not much had really changed. Arrests and deportations were continuing.

“It’s very tightly controlled by the bureaucracy and security authorities,” said Dr Robie.

He highlighted the message from critics and researchers of a “secret genocide” in West Papua.

“The state of mainstream international media is a big part of how West Papua is ignored. There is a big difference when you watch some news media that take a more independent stance, such as Al Jazeera.”

He praised Al Jazeera’s Dutch journalist in Jakarta, Step Vaessen, for her coverage.

The penalties for showing support for West Papuan independence is severe – a 15-year prison sentence if you raise the banned Morning Star independence flag – even wearing a t-shirt like I am wearing tonight with the flag on can get you into trouble,” Dr Robie said.

“It is a very serious situation for West Papuans.”

“They believe their independence was declared in 1962 and despite that, Indonesian forces invaded.

“Western countries have become persuaded that West Papua has become part of Indonesia, making the situation a wrong that has never been righted.”

NZ media coverage

While the situation is still dire, there has been some sporadic New Zealand coverage of the West Papua situation, said Dr Robie.

New Zealander Karen Abplanalp, who researched journalist access into West Papua for her masters degree, assisted Māori Television in a reporting mission with Adrian Stevanon to West Papua in 2015. The crew had to “dress” up the assignment bid with the authorities by saying it was a cultural showcase and had a nice side report about a kumara aid project in the Highlands.

Johnny Blades and Koroi Hawkins from RNZ also visited West Papua that year and did a rare interview with Lukas Enembe, the governor of Papua.

Dr Robie said New Zealand media covered disasters, coups and cyclones, while ignoring many of the social justice and development stories that were “crying out to be covered” in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Universities have responsibilities to shed light through research,” concluded Dr Robie.

He called for Indonesia to genuinely “open the door” to journalists and non-government agencies to visit West Papua, and for a “real” UN referendum on self-determination for the Papuans.

Social justice activist Maire Leadbeater (right), author of a forthcoming book on West Papua, with “wantok” Melanesians at the Pacific Media Centre seminar last night. Image” Del Abcede/PMC
Peace and human rights activist Maire Leadbeater said the presentation was enlightening and covered many topics.

“It was great, I really enjoyed it. Dr Robie covered a lot of bases,” Leadbeater said.

Leadbeater is due to have a book published next month about the issue, See No Evil: New Zealand’s betrayal of the people of West Papua.

“The book will be a probe into New Zealand’s diplomacy that hasn’t been done before.” (*)

 

Source: asiapacificreport.nz

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