13 Mar 2007

Climate of fear denies Papuans right to freedom of speech - Papuan Catholic priest

4:43 pm on 13 March 2007

A Catholic priest in Papua says the climate of fear in the eastern most Indonesian region needs to be eliminated before Papuans can enjoy freedom of speech.

Father Neles Tebay from the diocese of Jayapura was responding to the US State Department's recently released Human Rights Report on Papua.

The report says infringements on free speech and peaceful assembly were among the human rights abuses in Papua during the year.

Other problems include unlawful killings, torture and extortion by security forces; arbitrary detentions, harsh prison conditions, warrantless searches and a corrupt judicial system.

However the report says the government generally respects Papuans' rights to peaceful assembly.

But Father Neles Tebay says it is difficult for Papuans to meet and discuss their concerns safely.

"At the theoretical level, yes, there is room for freedom of speech. But the situation right now is that the Papuans are living in fear - the fear of getting together to discuss things. So the Papuans, this year, need to be empowered to use the freedom of speech provided by the Indonesian state."