President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Office of the President
Republic of Indonesia
Dear President Yudhoyono:
We write regarding recent press reports about what appears to be effectively a ban on the foreign media from the province of Papua in eastern Indonesia.
Indonesia’s Minister of Defense, Juwono Sudarsono, was reported on February 6, 2006 in the media stating that the government will maintain curbs on foreign media reporting from Papua. He is quoted as saying that:
“We feel that our unity and cohesion are being threatened by the presence of foreign intrusion and concerns so there is a balance between international concerns and sovereignty that we want to strike very peacefully.” We write regarding recent press reports about what appears to be effectively a ban on the foreign media from the province of Papua in eastern Indonesia. Indonesia’s Minister of Defense, Juwono Sudarsono, was reported on February 6, 2006 in the media stating that the government will maintain curbs on foreign media reporting from Papua. He is quoted as saying that: “We feel that our unity and cohesion are being threatened by the presence of foreign intrusion and concerns so there is a balance between international concerns and sovereignty that we want to strike very peacefully.”
Minister Sudarsono was also reported as stating that the curbs should extend to foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and churches, who he thought might create conflict in the province by encouraging Papuans to campaign on issues of human rights. He stated that he feared reporters could be “used as a platform” by Papuans to publicize the alleged abuses.
These recent statements confirm what has effectively been a ban on access to Papua for a wide range of foreign organizations since 2003. The Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club has stated concern that no foreign journalist has had official access to Papua in the past eighteen months. In that period there has been a significant build-up of troops in Papua with reports of widespread displacement of civilians, arson, and arbitrary detention in the central highlands region.
Human Rights Watch is alarmed at efforts by the Indonesian government to ban or limit press coverage of human rights violations and other issues in Papua. Such a ban harkens back to the previous era of autocracy, not the new democracy that your government leads.
Human Rights Watch urges the Indonesian government to respect press freedom and to allow full press coverage of all issues affecting the province.
Human Rights Watch fears that the lack of access and monitoring by independent observers, including the media, will further create a climate in which the armed forces and police believe they can act with impunity and commit abuses, unreported and away from the public eye. Minister Sudarsono admitted that some cases of killing, rapes, and abuses by some soldiers had occurred in the province. An immediate imperative will be to remove restrictions on access to and within Papua.
The rights to freedom of expression and information are protected under international human rights law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is recognized as customary international law applicable to all states, recognizes in article 19 the right to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Human Rights Watch is concerned about the human rights impact of the increasing military presence in Papua. Although the right to freedom of expression under human rights law may be restricted during a state of emergency or to protect national security, as provided by law and as is necessary, the Indonesian government has provided no justifications for the broad-based restrictions on access to Papua by the foreign media and nongovernmental organizations, including international human rights organizations. Any government-imposed restrictions on journalists (as well as NGO workers) should be consistent with principle 19 of the widely regarded Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression, and Access to Information (U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1996/39) on access to restricted areas, which provides:
Any restriction on the free flow of information may not be of such a nature as to thwart the purposes of human rights and humanitarian law. In particular, governments may not prevent journalists or representatives of intergovernmental or nongovernmental organizations, which monitor adherence to human rights or humanitarian standards, from entering areas where there are reasonable grounds to believe that violations of human rights or humanitarian law are being, or have been, committed. Governments may not exclude journalists or representatives of such organizations from areas that are experiencing violence or armed conflict except where their presence would pose a clear risk to the safety of others.
We fear that restrictions on reporting from Papua are aimed at making the human rights situation in Papua largely invisible to the world and reduce international pressure to ensure respect for human rights. But as your government has learned from its experience in Aceh, silencing or censoring the media will only fuel misinformation and create conditions for more abuse. These cannot be the goals of a reform-minded democratic government. Aceh is now open to critical eyes; unless there is something to hide, we cannot understand why Papua should not also be accessible. Human Rights Watch urges the Indonesian government to respect press freedom and to allow full press coverage of all issues affecting the province.
Thank you for your consideration.
Human Rights Watch