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Detention of French Journalists in West Papua Raised at UN

September 19, 2014

Detention of French Journalists in West Papua Raised at UN
Friday 19 September 2014 8:00pm WIB (JoyoNews1)

The Jakarta Globe

By Harry Pearl & Banjir Ambarita

Jakarta. An alliance of non-governmental organizations from Indonesia and abroad has addressed the UN Human Rights Council to demand the Indonesian government improve freedom of expression in Papua and West Papua.

In a joint oral statement to the 27th Session of the council on Thursday, Franciscans International, in coalition with 21 other NGOs, urged the government of Indonesia to improve access for foreign journalists and allow a specialist UN Special Rapporteur to enter.

"We would like to express our deep concern regarding access to Papua and West Papua, especially for journalists," said Budi Tjahjono, of Franciscans International.

Tjahjono, speaking on behalf of the coalition, which included prominent Indonesian human rights groups Imparsial and KontraS, also requested the immediate release of French journalists, Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat.

The two journalists, who were arrested in Wamena on Aug. 6, have been detained at Jayapura’s immigration detention center for more than six weeks for reporting without correct visas, something the pair have admitted.

Foreign journalists who want to access the area face considerable hurdles and have to obtain a journalist’s visa and permission letter.

"It is not easy to obtain such a permit and, if issued, journalists have often been accompanied by Indonesian government officials," Tjahjono told the council. "This is problematic because these measures closely resemble censorship."

Dandois and Bourrat, who were filming a documentary on the West Papuan independence movement for Franco-German TV channel Arte, were arrested with three alleged members of the Free Papua Organization (OPM), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against Indonesian rule in the region.

Authorities are seeking to have the journalists, who are considered a threat to security, sentenced for the maximum five years in prison for breaching their tourist visa.

Poengky Indarti, Executive director of Imparsial, which supported the statement, said the tight restrictions around foreign media access to Papua were unhelpful.

"It creates the impression that Papua is closed for international reporting."

She said the government’s approach could boomerang, as the international community did not see the full picture.

"Should the government provide easy access for foreign journalists, those reporters can see the condition and facts with their own eyes," she said. "The government won’t be seen as isolating Papua."

The arrest of the French journalists has drawn criticism from media freedom groups, including the French-based Reporters Without Borders. Indonesia’s national press council has said it would be better to deport the journalists.

Gardu Tampubolon, head of Jayapura’s immigration office, told the Jakarta Globe on Friday that officials were working as fast as possible to complete paperwork for the case.

He said it was urgent because the arrests had received international attention.

"Everybody in Papua wishes the case can be tried immediately so the international community will not think we are stalling intentionally."

Gardu said his office had decided to prosecute the journalists, instead of deporting them, because they were considered a threat to national security.

"The immigration office is also a part of the government and security in Papua is also our responsibility," he said.

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