Feb 07, 2018

West Papua: Indonesian Government Ejects BBC Reporters After Criticism of Aid

The BBC’s Indonesian Bureau Chief Rebecca Henschke was detained and questioned by the Indonesian military after criticizing supposed governmental aid to West Papua on Twitter.  Henschke’s team of BBC reporters was given rare permission to visit West Papua to report on cases of measles and malnutrition afflicting the region, an outbreak that has claimed the lives of at least 60 children.  After tweeting her displeasure with the type of food aid she believed was being sent to children in West Papua, she and her crew were escorted from the region to Jakarta.

The article below was published by Hawai’i Public Radio.    

The Indonesian government expelled a BBC crew from West Papua after a series of tweets “hurt the feelings of soldiers.” Indonesia rarely allows foreign reporters to visit that restive area because of the on-going independence struggle, but the BBC was given permission to cover an outbreak of measles and malnutrition.

During the week of 29 January 2018, the BBC’s Indonesian Bureau Chief, Rebecca Henschke, snapped a picture of supplies sitting on a dock and tweeted it out with the caption: “This is the aid coming in for severely malnourished children in Papua - instant noodles, super sweet soft drinks and biscuits.”

By “biscuits” she meant cookies, and the word came up again in another tweet: “Children in hospital eating chocolate biscuits and that’s it.”

Military Intelligence pulled Henschke in for five hours of questions; she was then held by Immigration, and, after another 24 hours, she and her crew were escorted onto a plane back to Jakarta. 

A military spokesman said the boxes on the dock were not aid, but supplies from merchants which just happened to be there. He also criticized another tweet, since deleted, that showed soldiers with a caged bird, which he said implied that the troops were involved in the illegal wildlife trade.

At least 60 children have died in the measles outbreak, an epidemic amplified by malnutrition, which now affects more than 10,000 people.

Indonesia’s sensitivities on West Papua will be tested again soon, at the upcoming meeting of the Melanesian Spearhead Group in Port Moresby. The United Liberation Movement of West Papua has been campaigning for full membership.  Up until now, Indonesia’s been able to block such recognition with the support of the organization’s two largest members, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. But a ULM spokesman told reporters in Vanuatu that Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is now expected to switch his vote, and support full membership.

Photo courtesy of AFP/Medical Xpress 2018