West Papua’s untold story

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Rarely does the world get a glimpse inside the troubled Indonesian province of West Papua.

But this week, the ABC’s 7:30 program went undercover to report on the Papuan independence struggle and human rights abuses in the region.

Independence leaders are under severe pressure from Indonesian authorities, with several recent deaths of resistance members.

The Indonesian government never grants visas to journalists to report on the struggle, so reporter Hayden Cooper posed as a tourist to get into the province.

He filed this report.

HAYDEN COOPER: The flight into Papua’s capital, Jayapura, was tense.

Leaving Jakarta at midnight, we’d already been warned about the presence on most flights in and out of police, intelligence and military officials.

We’d been told plain-clothed informants would be in the departure lounge watching and listening.

So playing the part of carefree tourists was crucial.

Producer Lisa Main and I had come prepared, carrying Lonely Planet guide books, tourist brochures, snorkels, and workshopping stories about who we were, how we met, and why we were there.

Seven hours later, and after two stopovers, we landed in Jayapura and headed for the exit.

We saw no other westerners at the airport, but the decision to take carry-on luggage only paid off, as we sailed straight through and into our waiting transport.

(Getting into car) everything OK so far?

Papua is a stunning place – tropical, humid, and colourful.

The scenery around Lake Sentani is breathtaking.

But the long political struggle here hits you in the face the moment you arrive.

There are police and military everywhere, and one of the first things you see when leaving the airport is a large memorial for a murdered Papuan independence leader.

We had arranged to stay in a safe location, where we could do interviews and meet people without getting caught. Hotels were out because the staff there are known to inform authorities of unusual comings and goings.

When Victor Yeimo walks into the room, we know instantly that this man is the public face of the independence cause.

Charismatic, warm, engaging and wearing a Chairman Mao hat, he clasps Lisa’s hands and introduces himself with a smile.

Over lunch he tells us how Indonesia is trying to crush his movement, the West Papua National Committee.

VICTOR YEIMO: We know that Indonesia wants us to be lost from this land. We know it. But we will struggle for freedom because if it not me, who?

There’s no way.

HAYDEN COOPER: Filming in the street in West Papua is difficult, especially for foreigners.

We travelled there armed only with equipment that any tourist could explain away, and did most of the filming with a Canon SLR camera.

Documenting the heavy military presence is the hardest part. Cars are prevented from slowing down or stopping in front of the many army outposts.

We’d frequently copy our footage onto memory sticks and spread them around in case we did get arrested and deported. Coming back with no story and a diplomatic incident was our greatest fear.

But it was worth the risk.

The story of West Papua and the suffering of its people is one that can and should be told.

The Papuan people feel as though they’re losing their struggle, partly because Indonesia is so effective at preventing international attention on this issue.

As we left the region, producer Lisa Main and I were struck by one particular comment from independence leader Victor Yeimo – a comment that sums up all that is going on in West Papua and reflects the mood among the Papuan population.

(To Victor Yeimo): Do you feel as though the world is ignoring you?

VICTOR YEIMO: Yep. The world is behind Indonesia now. It means they all compromise with Indonesia to kill West Papua.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: West Papua independence leader, Victor Yeimo, ending that report from Hayden Cooper.

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