The Jakarta Post
The campaign for an independent Papua has been relentless and has made significant gains in past years. In January this year, the Free West Papua Campaign launched with great fanfare a global petition demanding an internationally supervised referendum for the region.
The petition will remain open until August this year and once it closes will be carried by a team of swimmers across Lake Geneva to be personally handed to the secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres. The campaign itself appears to have been designed by a techsavvy public relations team who also posted a YouTube video featuring pro-independence activist Benny Wenda calling for viewers to join the campaign.
The publicity stunt is a follow-up to the progress the movement has made in recent months. Last year, Free Papua activists managed to enlist an impressive cast of characters to support their cause, ranging from figures like Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pōhiva, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson.
The PR campaign followed what could be deemed as a coup for the independent Papua movement. In September last year, seven Pacific island nations raised the issue of human rights abuses in Papua to the UN General Assembly. Anecdotal observations have also shown evidence that the campaign to promote an independent Papua has gained steam in Australia and New Zealand. A senior Indonesian diplomat told of his experience of being confronted by a Pacific island student who was campaigning for a free Papua during a graduation event.
So, at almost every turn, we are being outmaneuvered by campaigners who want to see Papua separate from Indonesia. And yet the Indonesian government has done very little to counter it.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has made efforts to hasten development in Papua including rolling out the one-fuel price policy, which was aimed at boosting economic growth in Papua. Jokowi also signed off on a series of massive infrastructure projects in the region. Early in his administration, Jokowi made a gesture of reconciliation by releasing five political prisoners, a decision the President said was to aid conflict resolution in the restive region.
But none of these efforts have been viewed positively by the outside world because the government continues to cordon off Papua. Despite Jokowi’s pledge early in his administration to give foreign journalists greater access to Papua, his government has maintained a policy that makes it difficult for members of the international media to operate in the region. Today, an interagency “clearing house” continues to operate to vet requests from foreign journalists and researchers before they are permitted to travel to the country’s easternmost province. Earlier this year, two French journalists were deported from Timika, Papua, after failing to obtain a reporting permit.
By maintaining this restriction, the government is operating like a paranoid regime, afraid the outside world may find the skeletons it hides in its closet. If the government has done much to improve the lives of Papuans, why not show it to the world?
Honesty is always the best policy.