Papuans’ Intellectual Freedom

From the bottom of my heart I should salut to Mr. Neles Tebay for his objective analysis on the decision of Indonesia’s government to ban a book entitled “The Sinking of the Melanesian race: The Unitary State of Indonesia’s Political Struggle in West Papua”, written by young author Papuan Sendius Wonda which was announced on Dec. 14 last year.

Why did it happen? Some reasons from government are the book contains some elements that discredit the government, disturb public order, and endanger national unity. That reason might be right, but should Indonesia go back to the period of militarism New Order? Why there were no intellectual debate or open dialogue so educated people in Papua can exercise their intellectual for a better future.

Intellectual Freedom is one of the most fundamental thing in a democratic society. Indonesia has aknowledge the freedom of speech, freedom of intelectual exercise in academic, and many other freedom in social context. However, there is a limit for that freedom. The limit is not a unitary decision  from the government side but challenges from other people on the content of the speech, book or concept. Open dialogue will create a very dynamic atmosphere to finding the best explanation, and off course without any repression force.

We Papuan people need an open and fresh air to communicate our thought with the world based on honesty and good intention. We are tired of the political game among elites who always warn us about the danger of Indonesian Military in one side and the threat from Free Papua Organisation (OPM) on the other side.

It seems that both sides Indonesian Military and the OPM get the benefit for their campaign and we ordinary Papuan cannot breath in a democratic atmosphere.

Please help us, to stop the fight between Indonesian Military and the OPM. We want to be free from fear, free from political manipulation, free from poverty, free from health problem, free from illiteracy. We want to be free from OPM and foreign intelligence’s black propaganda abroad. We want to be free from military intimidation.

Free West Papua

Here is the article from Neles Tebay

Shackling Papuan intellectuals
Neles Tebay, Abepura, Papua

Since the fall of Soeharto’s regime, Indonesia has apparently begun to move toward democracy. Indonesian citizens have found space to exercise their rights and duties without fear, pressure and intimidation from the state.

Indigenous Papuans, for their part, have taken advantage of the democratic atmosphere to express their opinions by writing books on some aspects of Papua. Although there are only a few Papuan authors, it should be recognized that the publication of such books has encouraged more Papuans to exercise their freedom of opinion and expression through writing.

However, the central government has not always regarded the new developments as good news. Instead of being proud to see Papuans, who were once illiterate and relied on oral tradition to tell their stories, expressing their ideas in written form, the government considers the exercise of Papuans’ intellectual creativity something suspicious if not dangerous.

Many books on Papua, particularly those authored by indigenous Papuans, are censored under certain criteria set by the government or are banned entirely.

The latest book to be outlawed by the government is Tenggelamnya Rumpun Melanesia: Pertarungan Politik NKRI di Papua Barat (The Sinking of the Melanesian race: The Unitary State of Indonesia’s Political Struggle in West Papua), written by young author Papuan Sendius Wonda, and published by Deiyai, a Jayapura-based publishing house.

The introduction of the book is written by Rev. Socrates Sofyan Yoman, the chairperson of the Fellowship of the Baptist Churches in Papua.

According to the chief of Jayapura prosecutor’s office, Sri Agung Putra, Wonda’s 247-page book contains some elements that “discredit the government”, “disturb public order”, and “endanger national unity”.

Police seized the book from shelves immediately after the ban was announced on Dec. 14, and ordered those in possession of the book to give it up to the prosecutors.

Wonda’s work is the second book on Papua on which the government has slapped a ban, after Peristiwa penculikan dan pembunuhan Theys H Eluay 10 November 2001 (The Abduction and Assassination of Theys H Eluay on November 10, 2001) by Benny Giay, a Papuan anthropologist, in 2002.

Like Wonda’s book, the book on Theys was considered dangerous to national unity.

Theys was a Papuan pro-independence charismatic leader who chaired the Papuan Presidium Council, a body formed by the second Papuan congress in 2000 to lead the peaceful struggle for the creation of an independent state of West Papua. He was abducted and assassinated by the Army’s Special force.

It seems that the same criteria will be applied by the Attorney General’s Office to screen and ban any books on Papua, more particularly those written by Papuans, in the future simply by saying the books contain elements categorized as dangerous to the Indonesian government and state.

However, everyone knows the Attorney General’s Office has never clearly explained how the books endanger national unity, discredit the government, or disrupt public order.

By banning Papuan books based on unclear criteria, the central government shows its undemocratic face, despite its persistent self-promotion as a champion of democracy.

The undemocratic aspect of the government has been and is being manifested through its inability to face Papuans’ dissenting opinions.

Instead of producing more books to encounter the content of the banned books, the government has abused its power to stifle Papuans’ intellectual creativity and freedom of opinion and expression.

After decades nothing has changed in the way the government ignores Papuans’ freedom of expression and their intellectual freedom. It remains restrictive in determining which books are appropriate or not for Papuans to read.

The presence of the Indonesian government in Papua, then, is very suspicious for it seems to exist not to protect the Papuans in exercising their intellectual creativity but to treat them cruelly.

The banning of books does not apparently constitute an isolated action. Rather, it reflects the government’s policy of threatening Papuans’ intellectual freedom.

The writer is a lecturer at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology in Abepura, Papua.

One Response to Papuans’ Intellectual Freedom

  1. At Ipenburg says:

    I completely agree with Dr Tebay, while at the same time admiring his courage to express his opinion, which as he himself stated is rather unwelcome in Indonesia. It can not be the case that Indonesian laws are less valid or invalid in one part of the Republic than in other parts. It is unusual and undesirable that in West Papua books can be banned and authors and publishers threatened and intimidated, while in other parts of the country such a thiong would be completely unthinkable and raise a storm of protest.
    It seems that many in the legal profession and in the security apparatus stil do not consider West Papua an integral part of the Republic where citizens, independent of their ethnic origins, have equal rights under the Law as any other citizen.

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