While Indonesia was hosting an international gathering in Jakarta on Monday to mark World Press Freedom Day, a journalist in the restive far eastern province of Papua said police beat and arrested him as he covered a peaceful protest.
Yance Wenda told BenarNews that he was released four hours after his arrest, but with smashed lips and a swollen back. He said officers had struck his face, back, hands and feet. Before they allegedly roughed him up, Yance said he tried to show officers his media credentials and told them he was at the demonstration as a journalist.
“I was just about to show my assignment letter to (police officers), but they already swung their hands, guns and cane at me,” said Yance, who was on assignment for Jubi, a news website that covers Papua and West Papua provinces, which make up a predominantly Christian region that was annexed by Muslim-majority Indonesia 54 years ago.
Monday’s incident in Sentani, Papua, that involved Yance spotlights challenges and intimidation faced by media practitioners in Papua and West Papua. Local press freedom advocates have reported at least 65 cases of violence or intimidation against journalists in the past five years.
Meanwhile, more than 1,500 reporters and editors from 100 countries gathered in Jakarta for a series of meetings organized around World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), which will be observed globally on May 3.
The Indonesian government and the Press Council of Indonesia were co-hosting the conference along with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The conference opened on Monday and will run through May 4.
Yance said he was covering a non-violent demonstration by the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), a local organization that has called for a referendum on whether the two provinces should remain part of Indonesia or break away, when the cops arrested him in Sentani, near the provincial capital Jayapura.
KNPB held the demonstration on May 1, the day marking Indonesia’s annexation of Papua and West Papua in 1963.
Jayapura Police Chief Gustav Urbinas acknowledged that officers arrested Yance but denied they had roughed him up.
“There were no injuries,” Urbinas told BenarNews. He said Wenda joined the protesters but did not bring a press pass.
“After he was arrested he claimed to be a journalist, but there was no journalist ID card,” Urbinas said. “He brought only a scanned assignment letter.”
Dominggus Mampioper, chief editor of Jubi, confirmed that Wenda was on assignment Monday covering the protest by the KNPB.
“Our policy said that we don’t give ID card for new reporters, just a letter of assignment,” Dominggus told BenarNews. “Both have the same function. … Indeed, we assigned him to cover the KNPB action.”
Violence and Intimidation
Violence and intimidation against journalists are common in the Papua region, according to local press freedom advocates.
Since 2012, at least 65 cases of violence and intimidation against journalists have been recorded in Papua and West Papua, Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) of Jayapura said.
Just last week, three Papuan journalists said they received death threats from unidentified people while covering a hearing on an electoral dispute at the Wamena District Court in Jayawijaya.
One of the journalists, Richardo Hutahaean, said they were also briefly detained by police.
“My camera was seized and the recorded contents were deleted by them,” Richardo, chairman of Indonesian TV journalists of Papua, told BenarNews, adding that he and his two colleagues had reported the alleged death threats to local police.
The Papua police, however, have not provided information on what steps they have taken after the three journalists filed their complaint. A police spokesman said he could not comment.
“Violence should not be used to restrict journalistic activities,” Fabio Lopez Dacosta, the coordinator of AJI of Jayapura, told BenarNews.
Access for foreign journalists
The region of Papua, which also encompasses West Papua, is also among one of Indonesia’s under-covered regions with access to international reporters restricted by the government, press advocates say.
In an open letter to Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo that was published online last month, activist Samuel Tabuni wrote about his disappointment over such restrictions on foreign journalists entering Papua.
Tabuni, director of Papuan Language Institute, said the restrictions were still in place despite assurances from Jokowi that his administration had made Papua and West Papua accessible to reporters.
“I am very disappointed that the international media I invited cannot enter Papua because of the difficulties related with complex immigration issues when they arrive in Jakarta,” Tabuni wrote in his letter dated April 26.
He said he recently had invited local and foreign newsmen to visit Papua to attend the inauguration of his language institution, but none of the foreign media could enter the province.
Papua Gov. Lukas Enembe said that foreign journalists should not be restricted in covering the region’s news.
“Foreign journalists should see progress in Papua. We cannot hide it,” he said. “If we are open, they will see a tremendous change that has happened in Papua.”