Over 400,000 civilians have been killed by the Indonesian security forces in West Papua since the early 1960s, and the last month has seen some of the bloodiest incidents in recent times.
In mid-October, Indonesian military opened fire on a peaceful gathering of civilians at the Papuan Peoples Congress, leading to the deaths of seven people and the arrest and torture of hundreds of others. Graphic footage has just emerged showing the gross acts of barbarity inflicted on those present. The Indonesian authorities have refused to allow any enquiry to take place.
Following this crackdown, a gathering of West Papuan tribal elders near the highland town of Wamena was forcefully broken up by Indonesian soldiers. The elders were lined up n-ked and forced to endure hours of humiliating torture in front of their wives and children.
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Finally, last week the tragic story emerged of a young West Papuan student whose head was set on fire by Indonesian security personnel as he walked to the market one morning.
Why do we remain so ignorant? As Wenda points out, “part of the reason people know so little about the atrocities Indonesia is committing in West Papua is because the Indonesian authorities ban foreign media and international human rights groups from operating there. Even Indonesian journalists who attempt to report from West Papua can suffer grave consequences“.
This is backed by the findings of the Pacific Journalism Review, recently released by the Pacific Media Centre at New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology. The 39-page report on the state of media freedom in the Pacific in 2011 notes “by far the most serious case of media freedom violations in the Pacific is in Indonesian-ruled West Papua — far from public scrutiny … in August, in particular, sustained repression has also hit the news media and journalists.”
At least two journalists have been killed in West Papua, five abducted and 18 assaulted in the past year.
But as Wenda writes: “… increasing amounts of raw footage from mobile phones is leaking out, providing the outside world with an insight into the immense suffering of my people. People are starting to wake up to our plight, just like they did to that of the East Timorese people.”
This is yet another example of the way mobile hand-held technology is allowing oppressed communities to get their message out to the wider world. Just as we saw during the Arab Spring, it is up to media outlets to circumnavigate the media blackouts in oppressed regions such as West Papua by capitalising on the bravery of the people filming and smuggling this kind of footage out, and to ensure that the plight of a region less than 80 kilometres beyond our country’s northern shores hits our headlines.