While PNG promotes APEC big money, youth are building grassroots resilience

The countdown to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea is well underway. As the PNG government finalises preparations for this high-level meeting next month, instability is growing from pressing development issues. But, reports Pauline Mago-King of Asia Pacific Journalism,  some of the youth are committed to strengthening their country’s resilience.

The reoccurring theme in bridging various social gaps remains to be sensitisation for young people.

For Papua New Guinea, issues ranging from gender relations to health have worsened over the years, making them a norm for the people.

While the PNG government buckles down for the APEC summit, polio has emerged, tuberculosis persists due to multidrug resistance, and violations of human rights are ever-present as in cases like that of the Paga Hill villagers struggle.

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Papus New Guinea’s progress may seem obscure. However, this should not overshadow the mobilisation of young Papua New Guineans at the community level.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), around 60 percent of young people under 25 account for PNG’s population 8.5 million.

The disproportionate percentage of young Papua New Guineans calls for more engaging avenues that will translate into overall development at community levels.

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Executive director of UNFPA Dr Natalia Kanem says the investment in young people’s capabilities, as well as creating opportunities for them, will build peaceful, cohesive and resilient societies.

Cultural settings
Equally important, these opportunities require sustainability so that they are also contextually relevant to PNG’s diverse cultural settings.

As the PNG government focuses on “unlocking” its economic potential, the mobilisation of youth largely rests with non-governmental and faith-based organisations such as The Voice Inc., Equal Playing Field, Youth Against Corruption Association – to name a few.

Last month, PNG’s Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato told the United Nations General Assembly that the “government recognises the importance of putting in place the building blocks needed to enable inclusive and participatory development.”

He added that it was their priority to create employment opportunities that would match the needs of Papua New Guinean youth.

Concrete action in this area, however, remain bleak, particularly in light of 500 procured APEC-vehicles, outbreak of preventable diseases and drug shortages in hospitals around PNG.

As such, the work of various organisations to equip youth in shaping civic affairs is paramount.

Education at the grassroots level, along with platforms to communicate the acquired information, provide a bridging factor for youth to spread “sensitisation” during a time when governance is questionable.

Changing mindsets
This can be seen in movements such as the newly homegrown project SKILLZ PNG.

Last month, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) PNG in partnership with adolescent health organisation Grassroots Soccer, launched SKILLZ.

The project uses soccer as a vehicle for at-risk youth “to overcome their greatest health challenges… and be agents for change in their communities”.

The same way one manoeuvres a soccer ball, the same can be done in life when it comes to health and gender risks. Image: Pauline Mago-King/PMC

Grassroots Soccer Master trainer Nicole Banister says the project gives participants the platform to express themselves.

“It was incredible for me to see how some of the shyer participants really blossom throughout the training. They really found their voice in terms of facilitating, working with their peers, praise openly and build personal connections across organisations, different sexes, different ages and cultures – all of which are important to build a community in PNG.”

For a country like PNG, SKILLZ offers a continuum of care for youth to combat prevalent issues such as gender-based violence.

In addition, it provides a conducive environment for youth to develop a better understanding of PNG’s health system and their own health needs.

Training of coaches
Over a period of two weeks, 20 youth participants from varying backgrounds underwent SKILLZ PNG’s “training of coaches” workshop.

SKILLZ PNG participants during a session. Image: YWCA PNG

To an outsider, this workshop may seem just any other ordinary event.

It is, in fact, a necessary movement for young Papua New Guineans especially when high levels of violence can provide a sense of “disillusionment”,  as stated by The Voice Inc.’s chairperson, Serena Sumanop.

For Joshua Ganeki, a 27-year-old participant, SKILLZ PNG gave him a chance to do something purposeful.

Having graduated from Port Moresby Business College in 2014, he found it difficult to secure employment and thus resorted to doing odd jobs, and then eventually volunteering with YWCA.

His passion for helping young people led him to SKILLZ PNG and prompted a self-reflection on gender expectations.

Rights, responsibilities
“One thing I learnt is our society has gender expectations, especially for women and that is wrong. We need to break these norms and become equal team players and partners in life.

“SKILLZ PNG is trying to make us more aware of our rights, responsibilities as men and women.”

For others such as 21-year-old Kevlyne Yosia, the training strengthened her confidence in being an agent of change.

“Back in year 11, my class was having a discussion on politics and a male classmate told me that my place was in the kitchen so I have no place talking about such things. It made me feel bad because I knew other women are told the same thing.

“But it also made me stand my ground that I have a right to voice my opinion, and so do other women,” said Yosia.

She added that the training enabled herself and others to realise that support and appreciation for genders is essential in fostering healthy relationships.

Development goals
While projects such as SKILLZ PNG are vital, so are their alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

For YWCA PNG, its work with Grassroots Soccer has empowered more youth to be SDG champions in a political climate that is self-serving.

SKILLZ PNG’s coverage of goals such as “good health and wellbeing”, “gender equality” and “partnership for goals” means that more young people will feel empowered and equipped to participate in civic engagements.

Although this project has seen only one group graduate onto becoming coaches in their communities, Grassroots Soccer master trainer Alex Bozwa said: “I’m incredibly optimistic for the work that these people will be doing with other young people.”

SKILLZ PNG is currently limited to the capital of Port Moresby but it is a positive step towards leveraging Grassroots Soccer’s large success in the African continent, so that youth on a national level can also participate.

In the meantime, hope remains in young people like Kevlyne Yosia.

“I want to see a better PNG, where I can feel safe as a woman.”

Pauline Mago-King is a masters student based at Auckland University of Technology and is researching gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea. She compiled this report for the Pacific Media Centre’s Asia-Pacific Journalism Studies course.

Twitter: @iamatalau04

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Paga Hill iconic human rights film banned from PNG festival

A Frontline Insight item about Joe Moses and the Paga Hill struggle for justice in Papua New Guinea. Video: Reuters Foundation

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

An internationally acclaimed investigative documentary about Paga Hill community’s fight for justice from the illegal eviction and demolition of their homes in Papua New Guinea’s capital of Port Moresby has been banned from screening today at the PNG Human Rights Festival.

“The ban highlights the lingering limits on free speech in our country and the continued attempts to censor our story of resistance against gross human rights violations,” claimed Paga Hill community leader and lawyer Joe Moses, the main character in The Opposition film who had to seek exile in the United Kingdom after fighting for his community’s rights.2,3

“This censorship comes as a deep disappointment for my community who have suffered greatly over the past six years.”

READ MORE: Paga Hill resettlement mothers plead for help from Governor Parkop

The PNG Human Rights Film Festival. Image: Programme screenshot

The Opposition film tells the David-and-Goliath battles of a community evicted, displaced, abandoned – their homes completely demolished at the hands of two Australian-run companies, Curtain Brothers and Paga Hill Development Company, and the PNG state.

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What was once home to 3000 people of up to four generations, Paga Hill is now part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit “AELM Precinct” which will take place this November.

Moses said: “We appreciate the PNG Human Rights Film Festival for choosing to screen The Opposition film at their Madang and Port Moresby screenings.

“It is shameful that our government continues to limit free speech and put such pressure on our country’s only annual arts and human rights event. How does this make us look to the world leaders who will be coming here for the APEC meeting in November?”

‘Speak up today’
Under the theme “Tokautnau long senisim tumora” (Speak up today to change tomorrow) the mission of the PNG Human Rights Film Festival includes: “We are all born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

The international and local human rights films screened “promote increased respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights in Papua New Guinea”.

Paga Hill youth leader Allan Mogerema, who also features in the film said: “The right to freedom of speech and freedom of press is provided for under Section 46 of the PNG Constitution. By banning our story, the PNG government is in breach of our Constitution and our rights as Papua New Guinean citizens.”


The Opposition trailer.

As a Human Rights Defender, Mogerema has been invited to the 2018 Annual Human Rights and People’s Diplomacy Training Programme for Human Rights Defenders from the Asia-Pacific Region and Indigenous Australia organised by the Diplomacy Training Programme (DTP) and the Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP) to share his story of the illegal land grab, eviction and demolition of his community.

“The film has already been screened in settlements across PNG and at the Human Rights Film Festival’s Madang screenings. No matter how hard they try to censor us, our story continues to live, and our fight for justice continues to thrive,” added Mogerema.

“No matter how long it takes, our community will get justice.”

Dame Carol Kidu is also featured in The Opposition film.

Initially an advocate for the Paga Hill community, Dame Carol turned her back on them by setting up a consultancy to be hired by the Paga Hill Development Corporation, on a contract of $178,000 for three months’ work.

In 2017, she launched a legal action in the Supreme Court of NSW to censor the film.

In June that year, the court ruled against Dame Carol’s application.

#Justice4PagaHill

Paga Hill homes being destroyed in May 2012. Image: Frontline Insight screenshot

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Indonesia arrests 67 Papuan students in Jayapura backing Vanuatu’s UN bid

Arrested West Papuan students … backing Vanuatu’s bid for United Nations support for Papuan self-determination. Image: Voice WestPapuan

By Benny Mawel in Jayapura

Students from several tertiary institutions in the Papuan provincial capital of Jayapura have been holding actions to support efforts by Vanuatu and other Pacific countries to take the West Papua issue before the 72rd Session of the UN General Assembly this week.

Protest actions organised by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) on Monday ended with students being assaulted and arrested by police.

“One student, Petrus Kosamah was assaulted on the campus grounds,” Papua ULMWP action committee secretary Crido Dogopia told Tabloid Jubi in Abepura, Jayapura.

Dogopia said Kosamah was assaulted when police broke up a free speech forum held by students on campus grounds.

Papuan protesters arrested at a separate demonstration in Timika. Image: Voice Westpapua

“Police broke up the forum but students resisted. Police forcibly dragged demonstrators into a crowd control [Dalmas] truck. It was then that he was assaulted,” said Dogopia

Dogopia said that all the students involved in the free speech forum were taken to the Jayapura municipal police station. There they joined protesters who had been arrested earlier at an Expo gathering point in front of the regional post office in Abepura.

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‘Secured’ the protesters
Papua police chief Inspector General Martuani Sormin, however, denied that police officers assaulted demonstrators, saying they just “secured” the protesters in order to bring them in for questioning.

“None of our officers behaved violently towards protesters, they only questioned them and tonight they’ll be returned [home]”, said Sormin on Monday evening.

According to Sormin, the protesters failed to inform police beforehand about the demonstration.

“We don’t require [protests] to have a permit, but there was no notification”, he said.

Senior human rights lawyer Gustav Kawer said that arresting protesters on the ground that there was no prior notification is invalid.

Law Number 9/1998 on freedom of expression does not stipulate that police have the authority to reject a notification of a demonstration.

“The police do this repeatedly. There is no [stipulation] in the law stating that police can reject [a notification]”, he explained.

Escort needed
Kawer said that police are only authorised to issue a document stating they have received the notification. They are then obliged to facilitate the protest until the demonstrations have conveyed their aspirations.

“The proper way is for police to escort them until the demonstrators have achieved their goal,” he said.

Kawer added that he was shocked at how police violated laws which guaranteed freedom of expression.

Police instead see it as an issue of law enforcement.

“Police frequently violate the law”, he said.

According to Kawer, police were not actually aware that actions which they saw as enforcing the law harmed Indonesia. Indonesia becomes the focus of world attention on freedom of expression.

“This approach attracts world attention. The international community questions how far Indonesia is open to free expression,” he said. Because of this, in future police must adhere to regulations, not interpret legislation.

The following is a chronology of the arrests which took place at three protest gathering points:

1. Expo Taxi Roundabout, Waena: At 8.30am local time, protesters arrived at the gathering point. Meanwhile, police were already on alert.

At 9.22 the protesters began giving speeches. Police then approached the demonstrators and negotiated with them. The negotiations ended with the arrest of demonstrators. The protesters were ordered into a Dalmas truck and taken to the Jayapura municipal police station.

2. Jayapura Science and Technology University (USTJ) campus: At 10.30am local time. students had gathered on campus grounds and were giving speeches.

At 11.45am, police entered the USTJ campus grounds and forcibly broke up the free speech action. But the students refused to disband and in the end police acted violently and the students were arrested and dragged into to Dalmas truck and taken to the Jayapura municipal police station.

3. Abepura, in front of the post office: At 11.10am, protesters had gathered on Jl. Biak in front of the Jayapura State Senor High-School 1. The protesters then marched on foot to the Abepura post office.

At 11.20am local time the protesters arrived at the post office and began giving speeches. At 11.30 police approached the demonstrators and closed down the free speech forum.

The following are the names of those arrested who based at the mobilisation points:

1. Expo:
Dewo Wonda (student)
Lion Kabak (student)
Yunara Wandikbo (student)
Niba Aroba (student)
Kabel Bagau (student)
Anggrek Babugau (student)
Ason Mirin (student)
Kisman Nabyal (student)
Deki Kogoya (student)
Freedom T (student)
Wiame Hagijimbau (student)
Ebed Enggalim (student)
Memo Hagijimbau (student)
Yuspianus Duwitau (student)
Wanius Kombo (student)
Ricky Yapugau (student)
Mitinus Lawiya (student)
Fery Kogoya (student)
Feri Mujijau (student)
Seteniel Bagubau (student)
Nobel Belau (student)
Gerson Wetipo (student)
Fredy Wamu (student)
Weyek Aliknoe (student)
Marius Agimoni (student)
Zeth Enn (student)
Chyrro Dendegau (student)
Binladen Mabin (student)
Kominus Ueling (student)
Lanihe Lany (Mahasiswi)
Mandena Tanambani (student)
Siwe Weya (student)
Noken Tipagau (student)
Melawan Wantik (Koordinator Umum Aksi)
Naman Manufandu (student)
Jespien Emani (student)
Arel Jikwa (student)

2. USTJ:
Malvin Yobe (student)
Alber Yatipai (student)
Yosep Asso (student)
Jeny Degei (Mahasiswi)
Allo Alua (student)
Hendrikus Okmonggop (student)
Don Borom (student)
Mater Sambom (student)
Yosep Yatipai (student)
Petrus Kosamah (student)
Leo Konorop (student)
Yustinus Yare (student)
Desma Wasina (student)
Widius Kossay (student)
Efrat B. Wakerkwa (student)
Rustinus Tuwok (student)
Petrus Alua (student)
Meky Gobai (student)
Enos Adii(student)

3. Abepura:
Obaja Itlay (student)
Septinus M. Kossay (student)
Otinus Meage (student)
Gerson Asso (student)
Bertinus Kossay (student)
Aleksander Tiko (student)
Andrianto Tekege (Pelajar)
Lewis Ningdana (student)
Daniel Kudiay (student)
Abiniel Doo (student)
Beny Hisage (student)

Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the article was ” Demo ULMWP; 67 mahasiswa ditangkap, satu dipukul polisi“. Benny Mawel is a journalist with Tabloid Jubi which has a content sharing arrangement with the Pacific Media Centre.

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Philippine protesters stage anti-martial law demos as Duterte trust plummets

Protesters mark the 46th anniversary of the declaration of martial law under Philippines dictator Marcos with demonstrations against President Duterte. Video: Rappler

By Paterno Esmaquel II in Manila

Protesters have staged the most widespread barrage of protests yesterday against President Rodrigo Duterte, as Filipinos marked the 46th anniversary of the declaration of martial law under dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

A running list by Rappler shows rallies scheduled across 14 regions in the Philippines, including Metro Manila, and even overseas.

The protests come in the face of growing discontent under Duterte – prices of goods have been rising, thousands have died in a drug war that has failed to eradicate drugs, and critical voices such as Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and Australian nun Sister Patricia Fox face threats of either arrest or deportation.

READ MORE: Filipinos remember martial law: ‘Dictatorship is back’

Duterte’s public trust and satisfaction ratings also continue to fall.

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Duterte – who earlier said the dictator’s daughter, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, donated to his presidential campaign – wants the dictator’s son and namesake, former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, to be vice-president so that Marcos can succeed him.

Marcos has a pending protest against the election victory of Vice-President Leni Robredo, leader of the opposition.

Meanwhile, Marcos on Thursday evening, September 20, launched a new campaign to revise history through a “talk show” with former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, architect and implementer of Martial Law as the elder Marcos’ defence minister.

‘No abuses’ claim
Marcos is selling the idea that no abuses happened under his father’s regime.

Protesters yesterday refused to take this sitting down.

An artist applies finishing touches on giant art heads of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and President Rodrigo Duterte for the 46th anniversary of Martial Law on September 21, 2018. Image: Darren Langit/Rappler

Roads lead to Luneta
In Metro Manila, all roads lead to the iconic Rizal Park, also known as Luneta, for a protest mounted by various groups. Groups marching from San Agustin Church, De La Salle University, University of Santo Tomas, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and University of the Philippines Diliman, among other assembly points, gathered at Rizal Park to fight the return of a dictatorship.

The Catholic Church, which was instrumental in toppling Marcos in 1986, is one of the groups that helped mount the September 21 rallies.

A Mass for Dignity and Peace was held at San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila, yesterday afternoon, followed by a march to Luneta with other religious denominations.

Protesters march from San Agustin Church to Luneta. Video: Rappler

Those who marched to Luneta included people of different political colours, from priests and nuns to leftist groups to Duterte critics such as former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Different though they were, protesters had a similar cry: Resist a creeping dictatorship.

Ousted chief justice Sereno speaks at anti-Martial Law rally. Video: Rappler

Sereno was one of the loudest voices in Luneta on Friday.

‘Fighting for justice’
In a raised pitch and with impassioned gestures, Sereno said onstage: “Naghirap kami sa martial law, kaya’t nilalabanan namin, at itinataguyod ang katarungan at katuwiran para hindi na maulit ‘yan. Kaya mga mamamayan, lalong lalo na mga bata: Uulitin po ba natin? Papayagan ba natin ang martial law uli?”

(We suffered during martial law. That’s why we’re fighting for and upholding justice and righteousness to avoid a repeat of that. My fellow citizens, especially children, will we permit martial law to happen again?)

Sereno – who for years kept the “dignified silence” of the Supreme Court until Duterte had her ousted – found herself leading a chant before a crowd on Friday: “Never again to Martial Law!”

Below the stage where speakers like Sereno spoke, a tired Judy Taguiwalo, who marched from Mendiola to Luneta, was seated on a monobloc chair as she granted an interview.

Taguiwalo was an activist whom Duterte named social welfare secretary, only to be rejected by the Commission on Appointments in August 2017.

Taguiwalo, who suffered during the Martial Law years, also said “never again to Martial Law.”

Nakulong ako sa panahon ng batas militar. Maraming namatay, na-torture,” she recalled. (I was imprisoned during the the period of military rule. Many people died and were tortured.)

Paterno Esmaquel II is a journalist with the online news website Rappler and these multimedia reports are drawn from the Rappler coverage.

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Rainbow Warrior returns to NZ for ‘oil free’ future and activist doco

Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman and the Rainbow Warrior skipper toss a wreath in memory of Fernando Pereira into the sea at the spot where the original bombed RW was scuttled in 1986 to create a living reef. Video: David Robie/Cafe Pacific

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Greenpeace’s flagship Rainbow Warrior 3 was welcomed in Matauri Bay at the start of a month-long tour of New Zealand yesterday to celebrate a victory in the fight against fossil fuels and to launch filming on a documentary drawing on the links between the nuclear-free and climate change struggles.

The tour began following the laying of a wreath at sea to honour the memory of Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira who was killed by French secret service saboteurs who bombed the original Rainbow Warrior in Auckland on 10 July 1985.

Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman gave an emotive speech about Pereira’s legacy being the ultimate success of the antinuclear struggle with the end of French nuclear testing in the Pacific in 1996 and the ongoing climate change campaign.

READ MORE: Rainbow Warrior tour begins tour at site of bombed predecessor

Rainbow Warrior crew, Greenpeace stalwarts and local hapu members were treated to a seafood lunch at Matauri marae.

The Nuclear Dissent interactive documentary.

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Also launched yesterday was a new interactive documentary, Nuclear Dissent, a cautionary tale about haunting nuclear destruction, told through the lens of some of the world’s bravest activists and experts – the successful leaders of disarmament efforts from French Polynesia and New Zealand to Canada, the United States, and Greenpeace, who influenced outcomes and fought for change.

In five short video chapters available on desktop, mobile and webVR, the true story of the battle to end French nuclear weapons testing between 1966 and 1996 is told through dynamic 360º panoramas on land, afloat in the fallout zone, amid riots, and underwater, Greenpeace says in a statement.

The story is capped off with a raw assessment of where the world is today – the greatest global nuclear threats, risks and effects unpacked.

Extreme health and environmental damage to French Polynesia was caused by test nuclear explosions in the South Pacific, spreading cancerous plutonium across continents and into the food chain.

Activist persistence
Due to the persistence of activists braving the fallout zone and widespread protests and a growing nuclear free movement, the French government eventually shut down its testing programme.

More than a decade later, those affected have yet to receive justice for the intergenerational trauma inflicted on their land, their health and their resources by the French government, the Greenpeace statement said.

With historical accounts from protesters Anna Horne and Greenpeace’s David McTaggart who sailed into the test zone, expert opinions from nuclear policy analyst and Harvard professor Matthew Bunn, Dr Ira Hefland and climatologist Alan Robcock, viewers are guided through an eye-opening journey.

Alongside each chapter’s video content, 360 x-ray environments and journals filled with evidence and artifacts bring otherwise invisible details and deadly damages to light.

An interactive fallout map enabled with address entry visualises what the scope of destruction, death and injury would look like in any city, from a selection of current nuclear weapons that exist in the arsenals of the world’s most dangerous superpowers.

‘Making oil history’
Anna Horne joined Rainbow Warrior 3 yesterday as the ship prepared to sail from Matauri Bay to Auckland where Greenpeace will launch its “Making Oil History” tour of New Zealand”.

Earlier, the Rainbow Warrior had been joined by David Robie, author of Eyes of Fire about the Rongelap voyage and the bombing of the original Rainbow Warrior, and currently director of the Pacific Media Centre.

In 2015, Professor Robie and a group of student journalists combined with Little Island Press and Greenpeace to create a microsite dedicated to Rainbow Warrior and environmental activist stories and videos, Eyes of Fire: 30 Years On, as a public good resource.

Both Horne and Dr Robie are among at least 10 activists, writers and changemakers being interviewed for the new Greenpeace documentary being directed by journalist Phil Vine.


The wreath laying ceremony in memory of Fernando Pereira on board the Rainbow Warrior yesterday. Image: David Robie/Cafe Pacific

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Pacific Island leaders tightening the screws on press freedom, dissent

ANALYSIS: The three-hour “detention” of television New Zealand Pacific affairs reporter Barbara Dreaver for “breaking protocols” over interviewing refugees on Nauru. But Josef Benedict reports this is just part of the dismal media freedom scene in the Pacific.

At this week’s gathering of key Pacific Island leaders on the Micronesian island of Nauru, conspicuously missing were journalists from Australia’s public broadcaster.

This was because the South Pacific’s smallest nation has refused visas to journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to enable them to attend and cover the four-day Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit.

And one of the Pacific’s most experienced journalists, Television New Zealand’s Barbara Dreaver was detained for more than three hours yesterday after interviewing refugees from the notorious Australian-established detention centres on the island. The Nauru government claims she was not “detained”, merely “questioned’.

READ MORE: Self-immolation, hunger strikes and suicide: Children on Nauru want to die

The Nauru government’s ban on the ABC, it says, is in retaliation for the news organisation’s “blatant interference in Nauru’s domestic politics prior to the 2016 elections, harassment of and lack of respect towards our President and… continued biased and false reporting about our country.”

But some say ABC’s criticism of Nauru’s policies on notorious Australian-run refugee detention centre on the island – plagued by widespread reports of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, with at least five suicide deaths to date – may have more to do with it.

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Those controversial camps are not on the agenda and not likely to be a subject of much discussion within the forum which ended today.

And neither is the issue of free speech and media freedom, since efforts to repress critical reporting has become increasingly common among Pacific governments.

Climate change
It is not only climate change and rising sea levels that threaten the lives and wellbeing of Pacific Islanders. Rising levels of official intolerance of dissent and free speech across the region pose a threat to the wellbeing of their democracies.

Indeed, CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, has found that these violations of freedom of expression appear to be systemic in the region.

In Fiji, attempts by the government to intimidate and silence free speech is creating a chilling effect ahead of upcoming national elections and before the date has even been set.

In February, Island Business magazine’s editor and two of its journalists were questioned under the Public Order Act over articles on the firing of a magistrate who had presided over a union dispute.

The 2016 sedition charges against The Fiji Times – widely regarded as the country’s last independent news outlet – saw its publisher, editor-in-chief and two others hauled through the courts over a reader’s letter to the editor that allegedly contained controversial views about Muslims.

Human rights groups believe the charges were politically motivated. The state has filed an appeal against their acquittal.

Journalists in Papua New Guinea often work in fear and many believe media freedom has been eroded. In February this year, PNG Post Courier reporter, Franky Kapin, was attacked and assaulted by staff from the Morobe Province Governor’s office for alleged biased reporting.

Journalists threatened
Journalists continue to be threatened and barred from covering the ongoing crisis at the Australian refugee detention center on Manus Island (after its closure) in the country’s north.

Senior Papua New Guinean journalist Titi Gabi says that increasing outside interference of the editorial process and the bribing and threatening of journalists has led to media freedom no longer being enjoyed in the country.

After a passenger ferry sank in Kiribati in February, leaving 93 people dead, authorities barred foreign journalists from entering the country to report on the disaster.

Meanwhile, the government of Samoa was criticised by a media freedom lobby group earlier this year for seeking to repress freedom of expression by reintroducing legislation on criminal libel without proper public consultation

Civil society groups in the regional power of Australia are extremely concerned about the impact that changes to security laws will have on fundamental freedoms. The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017 were met with a storm of protest from media outlets and civil society organisations.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights has criticised the legislation, warning that the measures will have a “severely chilling effect upon academic research, free speech, and particularly constitutionally-protected free political speech”.

According to Amnesty International Australia, the draconian laws will make it a crime for charities to expose human rights violations, and to communicate with the United Nations about those violations.

Stifled free speech
So, why are governments in the region working to increasingly stifle free speech?

For one, they are coming under growing public scrutiny, led by journalists and civil society using social media, for abuse of power, lack of transparency and corruption at various government levels.

News stories exposing official human rights violations have received global attention, thanks to the efforts of international media and non-governmental organisations. Averse to the negative publicity, Pacific governments have responded with repressive action.

Also, civil society groups in the Pacific are increasingly raising not just national concerns but sensitive regional ones as well, such as rights abuses in West Papua, a region in Indonesia where there is an active pro-independence movement, and in refugee detention centres in Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island.

Asylum seekers stand behind a fence in Oscar compound at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. This has now been closed but problems remain for the asylum seekers, “stranded’ against their will within the Manus community. Image: Eoin Blackwell/AFP/Asian Correspodent

Seeking to appease regional powerhouses Indonesia and Australia as they appeal for economic investment, governments of small island states have no qualms trying to silence those speaking out on these issues at home.

In turn, the “growing influence of China” has also been cited as a justification for Australia’s new security policies. But many believe another objective is to keep government dealings from the public.

This regional trend flies in the face of Pacific countries’ clear commitments to respect and protect freedom of expression.

Good governance
In 2000, governments signed the Biketawa Declaration committing themselves to democracy, good governance, protection of human rights and maintenance of the rule of law. At the meeting in Nauru, leaders are expected to sign a Biketawa Plus Declaration, building on the original document.

In recent years, island nations have also made commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels contained in Goal 16. Ensuring fundamental freedoms is pivotal to meeting this goal, as well as the other 16 SDGs.

Leaders at the gathering needed to reiterate their nations’ commitment to fundamental freedoms in its communique and demonstrate it – to create an enabling environment for both the media and civil society to work without fear of criminalisation, harassment and reprisals.

Failing to do so – and the detention of Barbara Dreaver yesterday – are clear signs that the forum is willing to undermine its international obligations and its commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

Josef Benedict is a civic space research officer with global civil society alliance Civicus and a contributor to Asian Correspondent. This article is republished from Asian Correspondent with the permission of the author.

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Jokowi unmoved by growing support for ‘noise’ blasphemy case woman

Meiliana, a Chinese-Indonesian woman of the Buddhist faith, who has been sentenced to 18 months in jail for complaining about the volume of the adzan (Islamic call to prayer) from a speaker at a mosque near her house in Tanjungbalai, North Sumatra. Image: Jakarta Post

By Christie Stefanie in Jakarta

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo says he respects the verdict handed down by an Indonesian local court against an ethnic Chinese woman, Meiliana, who was sentenced to 18 months in jail after being found guilty of blasphemy.

According to Widodo, if there are those who disagree with the verdict then Meiliana can lodge an appeal against the ruling by the Medan District Court

“Yes, an appeal process is available,” Widodo said after meeting with the Bishops Council of Indonesia (KWI) in Jakarta on Friday.

READ MORE: Woman jailed in Indonesia for complaining call to prayer is to loud

Speaking on behalf of the 44-year-old Meiliana, who wept in court after the sentencing, her legal attorney Ranto Sibarani said she would soon launch an appeal against the verdict.

Widodo said even as the head of the nation he was not above the law and was unable to intervene in the case.

-Partners-

This is because even he had recently been found guilty of negligence in a lawsuit over the burning of forests and land by the Palangkaraya High Court.

“I am unable to intervene in legal affairs that are related to the authority of the courts. I myself have only just been found guilty by a court in Palangkaraya over a [forest] fire,” said Widodo laughing.

President Widodo … found guilty by a court in Palangkaraya over a Kalimantan forest fire. Image: Jakarta Post

Forest fire case
The Palangkaraya High Court recently found Widodo guilty of violating the law in a West Kalimantan forest and land fire case.

The other defendants in the case included Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, Agricultural Minister Andi Amran Sulaiman, Agriculture and Land Spatial Planning Minister Sofyan Djalil, Health Minister Nila F. Moeloek, Central Kalimantan Governor Sugianto Sabran and the Central Kalimantan Regional House of Representatives (DPRD).

The defendants are currently preparing to submit an appeal with the Supreme Court.

The Pacific Media Centre reports that the last few days have seen a massive outpouring of support for Meiliana, a Chinese-Indonesian woman of the Buddhist faith who was sentenced to 18 months for complaining about the volume of the adzan (Islamic call to prayer) from a speaker at a mosque near her house in Tanjungbalai, North Sumatra.

An online petition addressed to Widodo, which was launched on August 22 calling for Meiliana to be freed, has already been signed by more than 100,000 people.

The petition also requests that the panel of judges that sentenced Meiliana be reviewed and that the Ministry of Religious Affairs issue a regulation on the use of loudspeakers by mosques, which it has since done.

Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the article was “Tak Bisa Intervensi Hukum, Jokowi Sarankan Meiliana Banding”.

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Indonesian police break up Papuan ‘New York’ pact protest in Ternate

Papuan protesters arguing with local Indonesian police in Ternate, North Maluku, about the rights to a public demonstration. Image: FRI-WP/Suara Papua

By Arnold Belau in Jayapura

Police have violently broken up a peaceful action being held by the Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP) in Ternate, North Maluku, this week.

Action coordinator Rudhy Pravda said the action by 22 protesters on Wednesday was to mark 56 years since the signing of the New York Agreement on August 15, 1962, enabling Indonesia to rule the former territory of Netherlands New Guinea

Pravda said the FRI-WP had followed legal guidelines by submitting a notification with Ternate district police (Polres) three days before the action.

Police responded however with a written rejection on the grounds that the action conflicted with the sovereignty of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).

“We said that we would still hold the action no matter what the consequences. Given the situation we held the action but with the position that we would accept bear the risk from Ternate Polres,” Pravda said.

“Before the action was broken up, we held negotiations with police. Several FRI-PW members were interrogated by four plain-clothes intelligence officers while they were waiting for protesters to arrive.

-Partners-

“They tried to intimidate the protest leaders, saying that they were not allowed to hold an action and if they insisted on protesting they must be prepared to accept the risk.

‘You want to die?’
“They said, ‘if you want to die please go ahead’,” Pravda said.

Pravda said the information on plans to block and break up the rally was obtained from protesters attending an earlier rally at the same location. He said that they wanted to negotiate with police but were instead threatened and intimidated.

“Then before they had even unpacked campaign materials for the action, they were surrounded by plain-clothes intelligence officers and uniformed police who banned them from holding the protest, and denying them a chance to negotiate their legal rights.

“I was pushed and shoved and a female demonstrator was also pushed and shoved, and they tried to use violence. The female action coordinator was pulled and grabbed by intelligence officers.

“Although we were determined to continue with the action they outnumbered us so in the end we weren’t able to hold the action,” Pravda said.

Field coordinator Gamaria Mansur said that in addition to breaking up the action, police also confiscated and tore up protest materials such as banners, placards and propaganda.

She added that earlier there had been an argument between protesters and police.

Protesters intimidated
“Police intimidated protesters with threats, saying, ‘do you want to die?’ and calling us traitors and so on.

“I was also pulled and grabbed, then after I shouted I was finally let go”, she said.

When sought for confirmation on the incident, FRI-WP chairperson Surya Anta said he strongly condemned the violent actions by police in Ternate.

“We strongly condemn it. The police’s actions in prohibiting and breaking up the action violate Indonesia’s own laws and regulations on freedom of expression,” he said.

About submitting this report for publication, Ternate police chief Assistance Superintendent Azhari Juanda, who was contacted by Suara Papua through his official Facebook account, has yet to responded.

Background
Following the launch of the Trikora military operation which was aimed at harassing and forcing the Dutch out of Netherlands New Guinea in 1961-62 and under the threat that Indonesia would move from armed infiltrations to a large-scale military attack, US sponsored negotiations that led to the signing of the New York Agreement on August 15, 1962.

The Netherlands agreed to hand over administration of Western New Guinea to Indonesia pending a UN administered plebiscite.

Seven years later under the newly installed Suharto dictatorship, the treaty led to the so-call “Act of Free Choice” in 1969 in which 1025 hand-picked Papuans “voted” at gun-point for the territory remain part of Indonesia.

An abridged translation by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the article was “Polisi Bubarkan Aksi FRI-West Papua di Ternate”.

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Indonesian police arrest 49 in attack, vandalising of Papuan dormitory

The 49 arrested Papuan students in Surabaya police station after the protest. Image: Suara Papua

By Bastian Tebai in Surabaya

Indonesian police last night arrested 49 Papuan students who live at the Kamasan Papuan Dormitory in the East Java provincial capital of Surabaya and they are being held at the district police headquarters (Polrestabes).

There were two reasons for the arrests, according to information gathered by Suara Papua news service.

First, opposition by mass organisations (ormas) to planned peaceful demonstrations rejecting the 1962 New York Agreement which were held earlier this morning, in which the Papuan student dormitory was the gathering point for protesters.

Second, the residents of the dormitory refused to put up the national Indinesian flag in front of the dormitory as part of the August 17 national celebrations of Indonesian independence tomorrow because they said they “did not feel part of” the Indonesian state.

Local residents, the ormas and police ended up forcing the Papuan students to fly the red-and-white Indonesian flag.

Yesterday afternoon, Papuan students were involved in a clash with a combined group of police and ormas who vandalised and then demolished the front gate of the Papuan dormitory.

-Partners-

A number of ormas joined police in the incident, including the militant Patriot Garuda, the Pancasila Youth (Pemuda Pancasila) and the Bastions of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (Benteng NKRI) groups.

According to information gathered by the Surabaya Legal Aid Foundation (LBH), these “reactionary” groups earlier attacked the Papuan students who were refusing to put up the national flag.

Students defend themselves
The Papuan students living at the dormitory tried to defend themselves and, according to several media reports, one ormas member was injured by a sharp instrument.

Since then, the dormitory has been surrounded by police and “reactionary ormas”. Later in the evening, police arrived and tried to arrest several Papuan students resulting in an argument that continued until 11pm last night.

In the end, all of the Papuan students – 49 people – were taken away and held at the Surabaya district police office.

Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) secretary-general Albert Mungguar told Suara Papua the incident that occurred in Surabaya was the same as that which was carried out by the Indonesian military against the people of Papua.

“Nationalism is not something that can be forced. Nationalism is related to ideology, it is born out of the people’s consciousness.” Mungguar said.

“If today the Papuan people and Papuan students don’t want to fly the red-and-white flag, what should be done by the state and its citizens is to ask, why don’t Papuan students have a sense of Indonesian nationalism, not to pressure them, force them, like they were possessed by the Devil, enforcing their view though acts of violence.”

Unconditional release
Regarding the 49 Papuan students, who were still being held at the Surabaya district police office today, the AMP is demanding their unconditional release in the name of upholding human rights and the principles of democracy.

“We condemn the repressive actions by police, in this case the Surabaya Polrestabes and reactionary ormas. And we call for the immediate release of our 49 comrades who were arrested for no rational reason,” said Mungguar.

Earlier in the day, simulations actions were held in several cities in Java and Bali coordinated by the AMP rejecting the New York Agreement which was signed on August 15, 1962.

Pacific Media Centre notes:
Following the launch of the Trikora military operation which was aimed at harassing and forcing the Dutch out of Netherlands New Guinea in 1961-62 and under the threat that Indonesia would move from armed infiltrations to a large-scale military attack, US sponsored negotiations that led to the signing of the New York Agreement on August 15, 1962. Under this agreement, the Netherlands agreed to hand over administration of Western New Guinea to Indonesia pending a UN administered plebiscite.

Seven years later under the newly installed Suharto dictatorship, the treaty led to the so-called “Act of Free Choice” in 1969 in which 1025 hand-picked Papuans “voted” at gun-point for the territory remain part of Indonesia.

Bastian Tebai is a Suara Papua journalist.

Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the article was “Asrama Papua di Surabaya Dikepung, 49 Penghuni Diangkut ke Polrestabes“.

The wrecked entrance to the Kamasan Papuan Dormitory in Surabaya, Indonesia. Image: Suara Papua

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Media freedom groups protest over detained Bangladeshi photojournalist

Alongside his social media coverage of the protests, Dr Shahidul Alam apparently angered the authorities and the ruling party after he gave a TV interview with Al Jazeera when criticised the government. Image: Global Voices

By Global Voices

Late on the night of August 5, 2018, award-winning Bangladeshi photographer and activist Dr Shahidul Alam was forcibly abducted from his house in Dhanmondi, Dhaka, by 20 men in plainclothes, sparking protests from media freedom and human rights groups.

Alam is the founder of both the Drik Picture Library and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and a vocal journalist on issues related to rule of law and the public interest.

It was soon confirmed that a team of the Detective Branch (DB) of police had detained Shahidul from his residence, with the intention of interrogating him over his Facebook posts about ongoing student protests in the capital, Dhaka.

READ MORE: RSF protests over shocking press freedom violations during Bangladeshi student protests

Secondary school students of different educational institutions in the Bangladesh capital have taken to the streets since July 29 demanding improved road safety and rule enforcement, after two of their classmates were killed due to reckless driving by public bus. The students are also demanding justice for the victims.

Excessive police force
Shahidul Alam has been covering the ongoing student protests in Bangladesh in his Facebook and Twitter accounts and discussing the protests on Facebook Live.

-Partners-

More than one hundred students were injured over the weekend as the police resorted to excessive force, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas at thousands of peaceful student protesters.

The protests took a violent turn on August 4 when rumours of student protesters being kidnapped, raped and killed began to spread online, but independent media sources at the Dhaka Tribune along with students themselves and a fact-checking Facebook group called Jaachai (fact-check) have denounced these messages as false and debunked doctored photographs.

Nevertheless, many students came out to the streets to protest the deaths. Several violent confrontations between protesters and police have ensued since.

Mobs allegedly associated with Bangladesh’s ruling party have also attacked demonstrators and journalists who were covering the attacks.

Emergency medical teams say they have treated more than 100 protesters who have been injured.

In an attempt to curb rapidly-spreading rumors, mobile internet speed was brought down to a minimum level (2G) shutting down 3G and 3G broadcasts.

Angered authorities
Alongside his social media coverage of the protests, Alam apparently angered the authorities and the ruling party after he gave a TV interview on Sunday evening with Al Jazeera where he talked about the recent situation in Bangladesh and criticised the government.

Expat blogger Rumi Ahmed posted a transcript of the interview on Facebook. Here is an excerpt:

I think what we need to do is to look at what has been happening in the streets today. The police specifically asked for help from these armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads.

I mean how ridiculous is that? Today, I was in the streets, there were people with machetes in their hands chasing unarmed students. And the police are standing by watching it happen.

In some cases, they were actually helping them…

According to the latest reports, the police have received a seven-day remand to question Shahidul Alam in connection with an ICT Act case filed on August 6, 2018. He was taken to the court barefoot and barely able to walk.

He appears to have been beaten while in custody.

Exiled journalist Tasneem Khalil tweeted:

The police have not yet mentioned why he was detained but referred to the case which accuses him under section 57 of the ICT Act of “abusing” an electronic platform in order to spread “lies” among the population and with the intent to “invalidate and question” the government on the international stage, damage law and order, spread “fear and terror”.

The provisions of Section 57 of Bangladesh’s notoriously broad 2013 Information and Communication Technology Act of Bangladesh have been used to slap hundreds of lawsuits against journalists and online activists to curb the freedom of speech online over the past few years.

Blogger and activist Vaskar Abedin writes on Facebook:


Amnesty International has released a statement which read:


Asia Pacific Report republishes this article with permission under a Creative Commons licence.

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