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Dispatches: Indonesia’s Papua Abuses Intrude on APEC Meet
October 8, 2013

Markus Jerewon, Yuvensius Goo and Rofinus Yanggam came up with a novel method of breaking the chokehold the Indonesian government has long held on news about human rights abuses in Papua: scaling the Australian Consulate’s  fence in the dead of night and hand-delivering a personal plea to open the Indonesian province to world scrutiny.

It worked. The international media covering the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO summit on the Indonesian island of Bali this past weekend were kept busy with what the government usually obstructs: reporting human rights abuses in Papua. Official restrictions have effectively blocked foreign media from freely reporting in Papua for decades. But the three Papuans managed to turn the spotlight back on these issues with the unscheduled visit to the consul’s Bali residence, where they presented a letter urging APEC leaders to pressure the Indonesian government to open Papua to foreign media and to free Papuan political prisoners before leaving at the request of consular staff.

The Papuans are now reportedly in hiding and fearful for their safety. Those fears are well-justified. Over the last three years, Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of cases where Indonesian police, military, intelligence officers, and prison guards have used unnecessary or excessive force when dealing with Papuans exercising their right to peaceful assembly.  Those findings are echoed by an Australian National University research study released in August that described the Indonesian government use of torture in Papua as a “mode of governance.” During the Universal Periodic Review of Indonesia at the United Nations Human Rights Council on May 23, 2012, France called on Indonesia to ensure free access for civil society and journalists to Papua.

You’d think that Indonesia, which promotes itself as a stable progressive democracy, would welcome foreign media scrutiny to expose the truth, abuses and all, and assist the government’s efforts to address the problems. Think again. On July 16, 2013, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marty Natalegawa defended the foreign media ban in Papua on the basis of “security and safety” of foreign journalists.

That prohibition will likely only help ensure that abuses and impunity in Papua continue and compel Papuans such as Markus Jerewon, Yuvensius Goo and Rofinus Yanggam to take desperate measures and risk their safety to expose them.