JAYAPURA CITY - With the top Indonesian military (TNI) officer in Papua joining the province’s governor in extending an invitation to foreign journalists and nongovernmental organizations, you’d think a clutch of writers and activists must be boarding planes to the country’s eastern-most province, hitherto off limits to foreign press.
“Foreign journalists who wish to do their work in Papua are welcomed as long as they follow the procedures,’ the TNI’s [Indonesian military] Maj. Gen. Christian Zebua told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday.
The comments follow Papua Governor Lukas Enembe’s recent invitation, in which he promised to open the region up to foreign journalists and NGOs, and guaranteed their safety in the restive province.
“Why not?” Lukas said on Wednesday. “There’s nothing that needs to be covered up. That would only raise questions. They can see the development we have made and inform others that Papua is a safe place.”
But there won’t be many bags packed just yet because an invitation has yet to be issued by the central government in Jakarta, which keeps a tight leash on information coming out of the island provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Foreign journalists wishing to visit the area report that they are required to apply to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which convenes a weekly inter-departmental meeting to assess requests.
The meeting, which is said to consider input from TNI and the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), rarely issues its approval.
Foreign journalists who do visit Papua quickly find themselves picked up by the police or military, who demand to see their written approval from Jakarta.
Without it, foreigners inevitably find themselves escorted back to their accommodation, then to the airport.
Foreign NGOs such as Peace Brigades International and the International Committee of the Red Cross have also been prevented by the central government from operating in Papua in recent years, because of assistance extended to political prisoners and human rights activists.
But in his comments to the Jakarta Globe on Thursday, Christian said the military would guarantee foreign journalists’ safety while they were covering stories in Papua.
“There will be no intimidation or spying on journalists, as long as they enter the province according to the procedures we have set up,’ he said — without clarifying whether that meant Jakarta’s written approval was still required.
However, he said, if journalists were found to have “violated the rules,” they would immediately be handed over to the local police.
“There is nothing we have to fear because we are not hiding anything, but we hope journalists can disseminate balance and fair reporting,” Christian said. [TheJakartaGlobe]