President Joko Widodo, center, on a state visit to Abepura prison in Papua in May. The Indonesian leader has promised reporters access to the restive region. (AFP/Romeo Gacad)

In Indonesia, promising steps on Papua access but more work needed

By Sumit Galhotra/CPJ Asia Program Research Associate on June 8, 2015 9:59 AM ET

Last month Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, announced his intention to allow international journalists access to restive regions including Papua and West Papua--an issue the Committee to Protect Journalists has long advocated for.

His announcement comes nearly six months after I represented CPJ in Indonesia as part of a joint mission made up of press freedom and freedom of expression groups. Among the mission's recommendations, released after its December visit, was a need for the government to address the limited access journalists have to these regions.

As well as the recommendations, the mission released findings last year based on its meetings in Jakarta and Bali with journalists, media advocates, and the government.

Widodo's announcement is a step we welcome. But as my colleague Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative, wrote last month: "The shift will be welcome, if Widodo's announcement is universally followed by all government agencies, including security forces."

That is a big if.

Already Indonesian security officials have made statements that run contrary to the president's announcement, according to news reports. "It appears to be business as usual this week for Indonesian government officials intent on maintaining the decades-long restrictions on foreign media access to Indonesia's far eastern provinces of Papua and West Papua," wrote Phelim Kine, of Human Rights Watch, last month.

The joint statement released by the mission today strongly encourages the president to back his statements with concrete changes in policy that will ensure journalists can operate freely in all parts of Indonesia. It calls on Widodo to take further steps, in line with recommendations made by the mission, to protect the safety of international and local journalists.

A copy of the statement can be viewed here.

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