Questions on Papua “gagged” at PNG press conference

The International Federation of Journalists and its Indonesia affiliate, Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) strongly criticize the gag order put on journalists in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea during Indonesia’s foreign minister’s visit over the weekend. AJI and the IFJ remind the Indonesian government that restricting access to information is an attack on the country’s media freedom.

During a three-day visit to Papua New Guinea by the Minister for Foreign Affairs for Indonesia, Retno Marsudi, journalists were told by PNG officials that they were not to raise the “sensitive” issues of the Indonesian eastern province of Papua where a pro-independence movement has existed for decades. Prior to a press conference between Ms Marsudi and PNG’s foreign minister, Rimbink Pato, a statement was released by Mr Pato saying bilateral, regional and international issues would discussed. However, issues on the province were up for discussion and journalists report they were forbidden to raise them.

At the end of the press conference, Mr Pato said that the foreign minister and the PNG Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, had discussed the issue during a breakfast meeting earlier in the day.

The president of the Media Council of Papua New Guinea, Alexander Rheeny, has demanded clarification from PNG’s foreign ministry about the gag order. He went on to say the orders given to journalists were unfortunate. During Ms Marsudi’s trip to the region, Solomon Island journalists were also restricted in their access to the minister. Media were initially invited to attend a session with the minister; however this invitation was revoked at the last minute.

The general secretary of AJI, Arfi Bambani, said: “We deplore the actions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia. Denying access to information only extends misinformation about Papua and creates further concern about Indonesia’s foreign policy. Silencing also reinforces the fact there are irregularities in Papua, that there are violations of human rights and a restraint of freedom of speech.”

“We urge the Indonesian government to open and increase the access to information in Papua, not to obstruct journalists in the country or foreigners who want to cover Indonesia's easternmost province. Disclosure of information is the main prerequisite of the improvement of the general situation in Papua.”

The IFJ Asia Pacific deputy director, Jane Worthington said: “Gagging journalists and restricting their questions is an absolute attack on freedom of expression and the public’s right to information. This is a concerning outcome despite promises from the new Indonesian administration that access to information on West Papua would improve.”

The IFJ said Indonesian Papua continues to be an area of concern in terms of human rights abuses as well as the repressive restrictions placed on local and foreign journalists attempting to report there.

The IFJ and AJI call on the Indonesian government to increase access to information on Papua and remind the Indonesian government that restriction of information creates negative speculation in the eyes of the global community.

The South East Asian Journalists’ Union (SEAJU), which AJI is a member, launched a campaign  last week raising serious concern for a number of freedom of expression violations across the region, including in Papua. 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

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