Two British journalists face court in Indonesia

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (Alliance of Independent Journalists – AJI) condemn the arrest and prosecution of two British journalists in Batam in north-western Indonesia. The IFJ and AJI demand all charges be immediately dropped and the two journalists be allowed to leave Indonesia and return home. The IFJ and AJI also call on Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, to follow through on his commitment to open Indonesia to foreign journalists and support press freedom.

On May 29, Becky Prosser and Neil Bonner, two British journalists working for UK production company, Wall to Wall, along with nine Indonesians, were arrested by local police as they filmed a piracy documentary for National Geographic.

The journalists and their local crew were handed over to local police in Batam by the Indonesian Navy, after the Navy found them fliming a reenactment of a piracy scene in the Malacca Straits off Batam.

According to Batam Police chief Comr. Asep Safrudin, the nine Indonesians involved in making the documentary without a license were to be charged with Law No. 33/2009 on film, which carries a penalty of two years imprisonment or a fine of Rp 10 billion (US$769,230).

Prosser and Bonner who were on tourist visas at the time of the arrest, were charged with violating Indonesia’s immigration law and could face a possible jail sentence of five years.

Following the arrests, the nine Indonesians were released on the condition that they signed a letter expressing readiness to be summoned at any time. Prosser and Bonner however were placed under house arrest in Batam for over three months, before been moved to Batam prison in September. On September 29, Prosser and Bonner faced charges of violating Indonesian immigration law at the Batam district court. The trial continues on October 1.

In 2014, two French journalists, Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat were charged with violating the immigration law after they were found reporting in West Papua on a tourist visa. After over two months detention in police custody, Dandois and Bourrat were sentenced to two and half months in jail and released a few days after the trial having already served time in custody.

AJI President Suwarjono said: “The Government should have just applied an administrative sanction for foreigners as had been set out in the Immigration Law, instead of using Criminal Law. There is no reason to keep them in custody, particularly to criminalize the two journalists for incomplete administration requirements. AJI demand the Government to release Neil and Rebecca immediately.”

“AJI expressed its bewilderment with how the Government dragged the two journalists into a criminal case. While in fact, according to Law number 6 of 2011 on Immigration, Articles 75 and 122, their misuse of entry permit to Indonesia to conduct journalistic activities in Strait of Malacca area was an administrative violation. The Immigration should have just processed the case, and deport the two journalists. The measure taken by the Immigration to keep the two journalists in detention, has only helped to create a bad impression of Indonesia as a country that restricts journalist works and tainted press freedom in Indonesia. Albeit President Joko Widodo’s statement to open access to foreign journalists throughout Indonesia, in conflict areas as well as in other locations. Where is President's commitment to open access to foreign journalists? If journalists are detained for an administrative violation, the measure taken by the Immigration is in conflict with President's statement.” said AJI.

The IFJ said: “We condemn the arrest and prosecution of Becky Prosser and Neil Bonner, which again highlights the challenges for foreign journalists in Indonesia. The Indonesian government needs to take a strong stand to ensure foreign journalists can freely report from the country, without been hindered by buearcracy and red tape. This is an outrageous violation of these journalists’ rights and we again call on the Indonesian Government to immediately drop the charges against Prosser and Bonner.”

In December 2014, the IFJ was part of the International Partnership Mission to Indonesia, which discussed the challenges for media and press freedom in Indonesia. Following the mission, a number of recommendations to ensure significant improvements in Indonesia’s media environment. Two of the recommendations referred to the restrictions on foreign journalists, recommending that:

·         The Government of Indonesia lift the legal and bureaucratic restrictions on foreign journalists’ ability to enter Papua and West Papua. Journalists should not face special visa requirements or be forced to travel with government and security officials, and they should have access to all of the country.

·         There should be an immediate end to any detentions, arrests and deportations of international journalists for their work in reporting from Indonesia.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries

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