Indonesian President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo released five political prisoners in the disaffected province of Papua last weekend, signalling some major policy changes in the region.
Jokowi also promised foreign journalists full access to the off-limits region, which has been home to a decades-long separatist movement.
The quest for independence led to an almost 50-year insurgency between poorly-armed locals and government forces in the eastern edge of Indonesia's sprawling nation-state. Claims that locals are unfairly targeted by Indonesian security forces are not uncommon.
The five prisoners - Kimanus Wenda, Jefrai Murib, Apotnalogolik Lokobal, Numbungga Telenggen and Linus Hiluka​ - were arrested in 2003 for a raid on a military arsenal. In a ceremony at Abepura prison, in the provincial capital Jayapura, Jokowi shook their hands and gave them their tickets home, letters of clemency that waived their remaining jail time.
their dykes way back in 1961.
Jakarta takes a dim view of it at the best of times.
In 2013, six men were arrested for raising the flag to mark the 50th anniversary of Indonesian occupation of the territory. They faced a possible 15 years in jail. One of the men was so badly beaten by police his trial was delayed.
So, with the Morning Star shining a light on Papua demands to break away from the sovereignty-sensitive Jakarta, will prosecutors and judges continue to charge and convict Papuans who peacefully raise flags (whether for treason or some lesser charge)? If they do, then nothing has changed and there will continue to be political prisoners.
Even if all current prisoners are released, they are likely to be quickly replaced by new ones - a delegation of pro-independence Papuans was charged with treason as they landed in Jayapura airport after a mysterious meeting with Minister of Defence Ryamizard Ryacudu​.
According to rights monitors, who have slammed the arrests as spurious, the five men have been charged with treason under article 106 of the criminal code for wanting to secede from the Republic of Indonesia and could face between 20 years and life in prison.
This also raises the question of what happens if the raising of the flag and pro-independence speeches doesn't lead to the arrest of Papuan activists. Will Jokowi and his government have the stomach for louder calls for independence in Papua? There's also the question of how he will react to foreign leaders calling for change in Papua.
In all of this, Jokowi once again shows that substance cannot be substituted for a smile and a photo-op.
He has not indicated how authorities should react the next time the Morning Star flag is hoisted, as it will inevitably be.
Unlike in 1998, when the release of the New Order's political prisoners was accompanied by the abolition of the notorious Anti-Subversion law, there has been no discussion of how judges and prosecutors should interpret the treason articles that Papuan activists are currently jailed for. This is therefore about more than a question of political prisoners, it is about legal processes and how activists end up in jail in the first place. This is about reformasi​ - or lack thereof.
Releasing current prisoners does not resolve the policy question of how the government responds to non-violent pro-independence speech. And it hardly draws a map to long-term reform.
If the 90 or so prisoners who are now locked up re-engage in peaceful protest, will they be thrown back in jail? Or is clemency contingent on becoming a loyal citizen? Authorities appear to assume the existence of an implicit bargain: prisoners are released, but Papuans should in return stop voicing pro-independence sentiments.
It is very possible that Jakarta will try to have it both ways - release some or even all current inmates, but continue to declare the Morning Star a "banned" flag, and allow security forces to act against pro-independence activists.
The fact that they gave clemency to this particular group, who were involved in an ammunitions raid in 2003, rather than a flag raising, is telling.
The five had already served 12 years of their 20-year sentence, and it is very possible they were up for release soon in any case.
It would seem that in Papua, there is a long way to go before anyone can pin their flag to the mast of reform.

4) Foreign journalists can finally report from one of Asia's oldest conflicts
It could be a game-changing step for West Papua. That is, if it gets implemented and foreign journalists are any good at their jobs.
“Starting from today, foreign journalists are allowed to and can visit Papua as freely as they can any other part of Indonesia,” Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said last weekend.
Foreign journalists have been virtually banned for decades from reporting on the province, officially for their own protection, but really because the government and military has wanted to keep a lid on their decades-long conflict with a lightly-armed separatist movement.
The ban has definitely helped keep news of violence in Papua out of international news outlets. But it hasn’t helped resolve the conflict much. Human rights groups say Indonesia’s “obsession” with censoring news from Papua only encourages abuses in this highly militarized province.
While the new president’s announcement is a positive development, many foreign correspondents working in Indonesia remain wary. Last year, two French journalists were arrested for reporting in the province while on a tourist visa. They were detained for more than two months before they were sent back to France.
Andreas Harsono, the Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said it remains to be seen how freely the police and the military on the ground actually let international journalists do their job.
During his visit, Jokowi also pardoned five political prisoners. He said he wanted to prove the “government’s effort to stop the stigma of conflict in Papua.”
What he didn’t really brag about is the fact that those released had to admit to their “crimes.” They had to say they had been “rehabilitated” to receive the pardon.
Papua’s most prominent political prisoner refused. “I can’t take the clemency because it requires an admission of guilt,” Filep Karma told the BBC during a secretly filmed interview in jail.
Karma was arrested in 2004 at a peaceful demonstration during which a Papuan flag was raised. As is often the case in Papua, the rally ended in a police crackdown. Karma was arrested, and charged with “rebellion” for organizing the flag-raising event. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail.
“I was only expressing the aspiration of the Papuan people,” he told the BBC. “Indonesia has to release me without any condition.”
Human rights organizations agree. They ask for an immediate amnesty for dozens of political prisoners, without condition.

5) Jokowi relaunches MIFEE, wants 1.2 million hectares of new ricefields within 3 years!

Indonesian President Joko Widodo made his second presidential visit to Papua on 9th and 10th May. In Jayapura he made two small but welcome gestures, pardoning five long-term political prisoners and announcing that there would be no more restrictions on foreign journalists reporting from Papua. The next day he flew to Merauke to get down to serious business: launching a plan to convert 1.2 million hectares of indigenous land to rice fields with a target of three years.
Within the last few months, it has become clear that President Jokowi is determined to resuscitate his predecessors’ plans for the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE), the mega-project launched in 2010 which was supposed to ensure Indonesia’s food security, but which has only succeeded in creating a series of land conflicts and in opening the door to a handful of oil palm and sugar cane plantation companies.
The original 2010 MIFEE plan allocated 1.2 million hectares, to be developed by 2030.What the president spoke of at the weekend was much more extreme: 1.2 million hectares to be developed within three years, as the first stage of a plan which could eventually encompass 4.6 million hectares (an area larger than Switzerland, the Netherlands or Denmark). However, as the government has not yet published any official plans, we only have journalists’ reports of what was said at the event to go on. Here is a summary and analysis of what we know about the plans so far:

The event at Kampung Wapeko

Jokowi went to Merauke to participate in a rice harvest, after being invited by businessman Arifin Panigoro (head of the Medco Group) last month. The rice was harvested by machine on a 248-hectare experimental plot in Wapeko, Kurik District. Apart from the president, several ministers and the national police and military chiefs were also present.

So what’s the plan?

The first thing to note is that the whole project all seems a bit spontaneous – as if they were making it up on the spot. When interviewed Jokowi at an event later the same day, he explained that
“This morning I decided that we should start this year. I’ve given a target of 1.2 million hectares that must be operational within three years.”
To iron out the details, a follow-up meeting was held the next day between representatives of the local Merauke Regency administration and agriculture minister Andi Amran Sulaiman. Bintang Papua reported from that meeting that the minister gave the local government just three days to prepare a reference framework for developing rice-fields – 1.2 million hectares within three years. 250,000 hectares would be developed in the first year, and the central government would supply 7 trillion Rupiah (US$ 534 million) each year to support the plans.
The key to developing such a large area would be to use mechanised agriculture – nearly all Indonesia’s rice is produced by traditional peasant agriculture, working mostly by hand with few machines, but providing a livelihood for millions of peasant farmers over the whole country. News website detik.comquoted Jokowi as saying
“It would be impossible to work this land by hand, even if we worked until judgement day. Modern machines much be used. Merauke will be the first place to use these modern machines, as yet there are none in Indonesia”
Under this ‘modern’ system, one person could cultivate 50 hectares of land, Jokowi claimed. However, the high capital inputs needed to buy machines such as combine harvesters would leave this far out of reach of any individual farmers in Indonesia. Industrial agriculture would only be possible for the state, or corporate investors.

How many hectares?

Jokowi mentioned 1.2 million hectares in the next three years, but many press articles have quoted Jokowi as speaking about a total potential of 4.6 hectares1 , and was even calculating total potential rice yields based on that area2. In fact, 4.6 million hectares is the entire area of Merauke Regency, more or less, including Wasur National Park, other protected forests, existing oil palm plantations and farmland as well as the urban area. Does Jokowi really want the whole area? Or could there have been some misunderstanding somewhere along the line?
It is not clear whether the figure of 1.2 million hectares which has been earmarked for development over the next three years is any less random. We don’t yet know where the land is that they are talking about. It is probable the 1.2 million hectares refers to the land originally earmarked for MIFEE in 2010, which was divided into 10 clusters. If so, it is highly unrealistic to imagine it could be developed within three years. Permits for oil palm and sugar-cane plantations have been issued on virtually the whole area for a start. Also, in many places, Marind indigenous communities, who have rights over the land, have stated a very clear resolve not to surrender their land to plantation companies.
Actually, the fact that all land in Merauke belongs to indigenous communities was not mentioned by any of the mainstream media organisations reporting on Jokowi’s visit. Indigenous communities are dependent on the forest for their subsistence and other livelihood activities and it has a deep connection to their culture and identity as a people, and for that reason there has been significant opposition from many communities in the MIFEE area to plantation companies, as there undoubtedly will be to this latest plan.

Who will develop the land?

It was Medco who invited Jokowi to Merauke, and to the best of our knowledge Medco is currently the only company which is actively experimenting with rice agriculture in the area. Medco was one of the pioneers of MIFEE and has several different interests in the Merauke area. But it’s record up to now hasn’t been good. It’s forestry subsidiary, PT Selaras Inti Semesta, became well known as one of the worst companies in the area, after it tricked the people of Zanegi village into handing over their forest for minimal compensation. Poverty and conflict followed, and the company itself shut down a few years later after failing to make a profit, leaving a vast swathe of the forest destroyed and the villagers with no forest and no income.
Although many companies expressed an interest in planting rice in the early days of MIFEE, most backed out due to the high risk of developing capital-intensive rice agriculture when it was unclear who would foot the bill for the infrastructure costs. The few companies who are still interested in basic food crops have failed to make much progress, and it is the oil palm companies (which are much-less infrastructure-dependent) which are the ones to have persevered. No new names of private companies which might be involved have come to light since Jokowi revived the rice plan.
With the considerable amount of public money on offer, it appears that it would be the state which would be the principle player. In Jakarta, a few days later Jokowi confirmed to that he was thinking along these lines:
“Who’s going to do all the work? It’s not possible to pass it all on to the private sector. So we have decided to allocate 30% to the private sector and 70% to state-owned enterprises”

A role for the military.

Military commander-in -chief General Moeldoko accompanied Jowoki on his visit to Merauke, and military representatives were also present at the follow-up meeting held the next day. In Bintang Papua’s report from that meeting it was mentioned that “elements of the military would be involved in order to speed up the program”.
This rather sinister-sounding sentence is in line with several comments Jokowi has made since the start of the year. Having set himself the ambitious target of achieving food self-sufficiency within three years, he has tasked the military, especially the local Babinsa officers who are assigned to individual villages, to get involved in food production. To critics, this is worryingly reminiscent of the Suharto Era “ABRI masuk desa” (armed forces in the villages) programme, which allowed the army easy access to monitor citizens and repress the farmers’ movement.
In Merauke, the military appears to be enthusiastic about its new role. This week they are holding an exhibition about food security as part of a cultural festival to mark the 52nd anniversary of the founding of the Cenderawasih Regiment in Papua.
So should we expect violence or will the army just loan its equipment and manpower to help clear the land? Let’s see, but if land conversion is to take place on anything like the scale and pace that Jokowi hopes for then we have to anticipate that some indigenous communities will not want to hand over their ancestral land. When local communities have opposed oil palm and sugar-cane companies in recent years, their experience has been that the mere presence of troops or police backing up a company has a serious intimidating effect.

So what’s likely to happen?

Merauke has been the target for a long string of megaprojects over the past decade: The Sinar Mas Group was planning to develop 1 million hectares of oil palm, the Bin Laden Group wanted 500,000 hectares as part of the Merauke Integrated Rice Estate, then came MIFEE in 2010 and now this new rice estate plan. All of the previous plans failed to achieve their stated aims, although they have cleared the way for an expansion of the oil palm industry in particular. This new plan seems incredibly rushed and will no doubt run into major obstacles too, which are bound to create even more stress for the long-suffering Marind people.
It appears that Jokowi has just shown up in Merauke for a ceremony, seen a vast flat land with ample water supply, and just like a string of leaders before him, thinks that if he gives the order it can be converted to industrial agriculture just like that. There are no signs that he has paused to consider why the previous plans might have failed, nor to listen to the voices of the indigenous Marind people who have had to put up with all these grand schemes. His fantastical timescale does not allow for any process of discussion with indigenous communities where they could give their free prior informed consent to their land being used, nor does it give time for thorough environmental impact assessments. With large sums of money and the military involved, whatever happens is likely to be much more chaotic and unpredictable, as there will be pressure to show some results despite the hopelessly unrealistic original plan.
Of all the media reports covering Jokowi’s visit to Merauke, only one has addressed the situation facing Merauke’s indigenous people, and how ensuring Indonesia’s food security will deprive them of their own traditional food sources. Papuan student Sanimala Bastian wrote an interesting analysis of “Indonesia’s food colonialism” in Papua for Majalah Selangkah. So let’s finish with an excerpt from that article:
“On the issue of his proclamation about rice in Merauke, Jokowi is clearly ignoring the fact that the indigenous people of Papua consume sago and their livelihoods depend on the sago forest. That means that cutting down sago palm trees in order to ensure national food (rice) security is a programme that will make the survival of Merauke’s indigenous people impossible because it will destroy their staple food, sago.”

  1. for example, three days later at an event in Jakarta, he was quoted as saying 4.6 million hectares can be offered for rice paddy fields” 
  2. He claims 60 million tons, presumable calculated at a yield of 7 tons/hectare with two harvests annually, which would be more than the current national rice production 
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The sparsely populated island of Papua has long remained Indonesia's poorest, most repressed region. But President Joko Widodo appears determined to usher in a new era of change.

Last Friday, Linus Hiluka was midway through a 20-year prison sentence for his role in a raid on a military arsenal in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesia's easternmost territory. The next day he was shaking hands with President Joko Widodo, who granted clemency to him and four others who had participated in the raid.
“At first we didn’t believe the news that we were free,” Mr. Hiluka says. “This is tremendous.”
Mr. Widodo told reporters after the ceremony that he was taking away the “stigma of conflict” from Papua, a remote and thinly populated half-island where a low-level separatist insurgency has dragged on for decades and spawned widespread military abuse and grinding poverty. On Sunday, Widodo announced the lifting of a longstanding travel ban for foreign journalists. Both moves help fulfill the reform-minded president’s promise to improve human rights in Papua, whose native population is largely Christian. 
What remains to be seen is whether these opening steps are a harbinger of further reforms in Papua. While rich in natural resources, the region has seen little of the windfall from Indonesia’s democratic transition that followed the overthrow of a dictatorship in 1998. It suffers from poor public services, crumbling infrastructure, and an HIV rate that’s nearly 15-times higher than the national average and remains the most repressively governed corner of Asia’s second largest democracy.
“That Jokowi is making good on this campaign promise so early in his term suggests Papua is a big priority for him," says Ken Conboy, a Jakarta-based security consultant.
Another 90 or so political prisoners that remain in custody in Papua, many for non-violent offenses, appear likely to be freed, too. “This is probably just the start,” Mr. Conboy says.
Widodo has made two trips to Papua, some 2,300 miles from Jakarta, since taking office in October. That’s rare for an Indonesian president. Former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who stepped down in 2004, visited only once during her three-and-a-half years in office. Her successor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, made a half dozen trips during his decade in power that tended to be marred by protests. 
During his first trip to the region in December, Widodo attended national Christmas celebrations and met with church and political leaders to discuss their grievances. On his return visit last weekend, he pledged $300 million for toll roads, bridges, and health care.
Jayapura has also been selected to host the 2020 National Games, an honor typically bestowed to cities on Indonesia’s main island of Java. An estimated $45 million has been allocated to build sporting venues, housing, and to improve roads.

Military impunity stirs unease 

The latest reforms come as a 50-year insurgency in Papua has all but fizzled. But fear of persecution remains pervasive. Just raising the pro-independence “Morning Star” flag can lead to a 15-year prison sentence. Meanwhile, reports of abuses committed by the Indonesian security forces continue to percolate. 
Hiluka, a farmer by trade, says he and the other four men had made the ill-fated decision in 2003 to raid an armory in protest at what they saw as heavy-handed military conduct. Two soldiers were killed in the attack.
Speaking by phone from Jayapura, Hiluka says Widodo’s civilian background makes him sympathetic to activists who campaign against military harassment and government overreach. He says he hopes the president will pull out the military, which appear to operate with impunity, so Papuans “can live a tranquil life.” About 30,000 soldiers and police are stationed in the region, according to Indonesian human rights watchdog Imparsial. The region's population is estimated at 3.6 million. 
The military says its continued presence in Papua is needed to secure the land border with Papua New Guinea as well as build roads and improve services such as health care. Indonesia’s chief military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Fuad Basya, says any tensions that exist within the region are caused by “insignificant insurgents.”
“Papua is already free from conflict,” Maj. Gen. Basya said. “It is not a military area.”
Conboy says Papua has few remaining security threats that justify a large military presence. The banned Free Papua Movement, an armed guerrilla group that has fought for independence since 1963, has carried out fewer and fewer attacks in recent years. About two dozen of its members are thought to have recently surrendered to security forces.
“Poverty and logistics are more pressing issues,” Conboy says.
Papuans and human rights activists are hopeful that change is finally on its way, despite growing complaints over Widodo’s reformist mettle. Western leaders and advocacy groups strongly condemned the president last month for allowing the execution of eight people convicted of drug offenses, including seven foreigners.