Indonesia expels French journalist on arrival in Papua

Veteran French journalist and filmmaker Baudouin Koenig has expressed outrage at his treatment by the Indonesian government, which is desperate to hide its human rights abuses and, some say, genocide in Papua.

Koenig and his team arrived in the Papuan capital Jayapura on Tuesday morning having obtained permission to visit the province, where journalists and human rights workers are normally banned. He was arrested on his way from the airport to the hotel after he stopped to film a peaceful demonstration. Interrogated for six hours, his group was sent to Jakarta and now face expulsion and blacklisting.

So much for Indonesia’s vaunted free press. If anyone tries to tell you the media is free in this country, don’t believe them.

In a hastily-written press release, Koenig says he spent months going through the official channels (including the French embassy) to get permits to film in the province. He says he had an Indonesian Press Card and a Press Visa.

I came in Papua to film the Census and the process of dialogue opened 10 days ago by minister of Human rights and people like the priest Nelles Tubay involved in this process (the reason I decided to go to Jayapura, was to make an interview with him).

I arrived yesterday morning to Jayapura, after a long trip from Kalimantan and without having slept. The plan was to go to the hotel, to rest and wait the guide of film and television department supposed to arrive from Bali in the evening.

My only fault was to cross a demonstration on the way to the hotel. As any journalist, I stopped the car I have begun to film. (I should have waited the arriving of the guide!)

Can anybody, after having experienced the press freedom in all the rest of Indonesia, believe that filming a peace-full demonstration can be a crime?

And if I didn’t think that it’s not a normal way to work in Indonesia, why did I film in front of the police? With a big and visible HD camera!

The problem is that Indonesia is doing a lot of nasty things in Papua and it doesn’t want the world, or even its own people, to know. The Javanese are robbing the region of its vast natural resources and leaving indigenous Melanesian Papuans with the crumbs. Anyone who complains is locked up. Merely raising the Morning Star separatist flag is punishable with long prison sentences.

The latest (uncensored) reports from the province indicate a new military operation is underway, involving raping and killing of villagers:

There are fears of an escalating humanitarian crisis today as news broke that Indonesian military are launching new sweeping operations in the Mulia region of the highlands. 6 people are so far confirmed dead, and 3 women raped by Indonesian military around the village of Tinginnambut, as Indonesian troops step up their efforts to find Free Papua rebel leader Goliath Tabuni. Villagers are now reported to be hiding in the jungle.

We appeal to the United Nations to intervene and send peacekeepers to the region. We have suffered for too long now. Please hear our cries for help.

It’s impossible for anyone to independently confirm that report – because independent reporters aren’t allowed into Papua to do such stories. The United Nations, of course, will do nothing.

To give an idea of the money Jakarta is making while it keeps Papuans poor and under its jackboot, from 1992 to March 2010 Freeport Indonesia, the subsidiary of US company Freeport McMoRan which operates the world’s biggest gold mine in the Papuan highlands, paid $9.7 billion in taxes and dividends to the Indonesian government.

As President Obama prepares to visit Indonesia next month, he might want to think about the Papuans. There’s a big danger that the trip will turn into a sentimental photo op designed to curry favour with Southeast Asia and the Muslim world, rather than a substantive effort to push Indonesia further along the path of reform in areas like Papua and deforestation.

Most of the US press will be obsessed with the picture stories about Obama’s childhood in Jakarta. I wonder how many will follow in Koenig’s footsteps and try to report on the situation in Papua, or the Moluccas for that matter (where separatist flag-wavers are also thrown in jail). After this latest fiasco, not many will take the risk.

Just a few words from Obama could ruin all of Indonesia’s sinister attempts to gag journalists and aid workers and help to expose the true tragedy of Papua and West Papua.


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