So, as you may or may not have heard, I’d been doing some behind the scenes planning over the past few weeks in order to visit a prison in West Papua at the end of the campaign to deliver postcards and a video bearing messages of solidarity from all along the campaign route. It’s been around Facebook a little bit, so you may have already seen it. If not, though, check this out:
And this one too:
And, for good measure, this one as well:
Now, if you’ve taken the time to read the last one there, from The Jakarta Post, you may notice some strange statements being attributed to me. For example,
““The political detainees and convicts were healthy and there were no problems. I am sure the prison guards treat them very well,” he told reporters after his visit.”
As well as,
“Bally said the he felt comfortable and safe, which was different to the negative perception he had of Papua prior to his visit”.
Hmmmm…sound fishy? Well, that would be because it’s absolute nonsense.
It’s only in the past two years of doing the Pedalling for Papua Campaign that I’ve gotten really used to talking to media, and seeing my face in the news here and there. The coverage for West Papua is, of course, an essential part of the campaign, but on a personal level there is a bit of a pleasant, validating novelty to it. This, however, is the first time I’ve ever experienced being, well, lied about. It’s a bizarre existential experience to see your own name associated not only with a misquote, but something with which you passionately, completely disagree.
The damage that this misrepresentation does to efforts made to campaign on behalf of these wrongfully imprisoned men and to shine a light on the human rights situation in West Papua in general is unmistakable and deplorable. After reading the article, me and some team members went into action, getting in touch with the Post and making sure they understood the ‘mistakes‘ they had made. I also wrote an editorial response, and am waiting on a response about whether or not it will be published. Here is an excerpt from it:
While it was indeed the case that the prisoners I met that day, who included KNPB General Secretary Victor Yeimo, Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience Filep Karma, and President of the Federated Republic of West Papua Forkorus Yaboisembut, were in good spirits, the situation of them and their colleagues at this prison and other prisons is anything but “free from problems.”
Victor Yeimo was severely beaten with rattan canes upon his arrest, and is currently serving a sentence 3 times longer than was originally reported by his lawyers.
Filep Karma required a lengthy and difficult campaign by Amnesty International and other NGO’s to receive critical medical care.
Forkorus Yaboisembut, at 57 years old, was kicked and beaten after being arrested for peaceful actions in 2011.
All of these men, along with the dozens of others at Abepura prison and elsewhere, are in jail for peaceful protest, raising flags, and speaking openly about their political beliefs.
I will be keeping my radar up about making sure that, if possible, this story is appropriately changed to reflect the truth. The Post, however, has done this kind of thing before with articles concerning West Papua, and I’m not particularly optimistic. I am, however, looking forward to continuing to use this article in my follow-ups to the campaign as an excellent example of how the truth about West Papua can be so badly manipulated in some Indonesian media.
The truth that this article manipulates into bogus general observations about West Papua is that on this day, and during this action, there were no problems. The prisoners were in excellent spirits and, despite the expectations of nearly everyone on my team to the contrary, I was not detained, deported or arrested. I was allowed to safely follow through with one of the most profound meetings of my life, deliver the gifts, take some photos, and bike on out of there. I even found a lucky marble on the road as I was leaving.
I was later told that one of the more well connected prisoners was able to coordinate my visit with the guards on duty at the time, who, as Papuans, I assume have mixed loyalties between their jobs and their country. When the head of the prison, who was not present during my visit, was asked later by media about my it, he said that I had not been there. I am still waiting to hear some kind of statement from him since the news of my visit was made public the next day.
All in all, it was a great day, and I am grateful to have walked away from it. I am even more grateful now, having gotten through another few days in stinky, hard-to-love Jakarta (which included an interesting meeting with a representative from the Canadian Embassy about my action and how the Canadian Government could support the prisoners – more to come), to be sitting in Taipei Airport in Taiwan, en route home to Vancouver after nearly 7 months of the Pedalling for Papua campaign.
There are still a few events planned for Vancouver and Vancouver Island in January, and I’ve got a video or two that need to be made, but for the most part this campaign is wrapping itself up.
In the last post I wrote, I kind of did the sentimental, ‘it’s been a long road’ closing statement kind of thing because that was the end of the bike trip and that’s where my head was at…and now? All I really have left to say is,
To everyone who has followed this trip, helped organize events, been wonderful audience members, shared the story of West Papua with family and friends, and put a piece of your heart into this thing. But most of all I want to say this to all of the West Papuans who have believed in this campaign and have called me ambassador. It’s a damn big honour.
It HAS been a long road, and I can’t imagine feeling more grateful and inspired than I do now. And I’m looking forward to a little break 😉
Peace, bike grease, and a bit of holiday cheer,