European and Indonesian media join call to free French journalists in West Papua

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins with the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the French Union of Journalists (SNJ, SNJ-CGT, CFDT-Journalists) and Indonesia’s  Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), in calling on Indonesian authorities to immediately release two French Journalists, arrested and charged in West Papua this week.

Few details have been released since Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat were arrested in the city of Wawena, West Papua on August 6. The pair, who work for the Franco-German television channel Arte, were covering a story on the Free Papua Movement (OPM). Sulistyo Pudjo Hartono, the West Papuan police spokesman said both journalists had entered Indonesia on tourist visas, which was deemed illegal.

Video footage, audio recordings and the journalists’ belongings including phones and laptops were seized by the Papuan police following their arrest. Dandois and Bourrat were charged with violating Immigration law on August 11. Normally foreign journalists detained for illegally reporting in Papua are deported; however this is yet to occur.

Yesterday the French Union of Journalists said in a statement: “We urge the government of this country to stop these operations from another era and immediately release our colleagues who are here doing their mission: to inform the public and work for freedom of expression.”

The IFJ has harshly criticised police actions and the ongoing impediments put against journalists attempting to cover the region. Currently foreign journalists are banned from entering Indonesia’s two most-eastern provinces, without specific written permission from the government and law-enforcement bodies, while NGO-workers are strongly restricted. In-coming Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, said during the lead-up to the Indonesian Presidential elections that he would open access to Papua and West Papua for journalists and international organisations.

Eko Maryadi, president of AJI in Indonesia, deplored the arrest of the journalists and advised police not to pursue the case and release the journalists.

“The arrest of foreign journalists in Papua is not new, but the Government’s repressive stance is increasing the desire of the international media to go to Papua,” he said. “We are hopeful that new President will be more open to the outside world. Becoming more transparent and accommodating to foreign journalists who wish to cover the Papua region.”

The arrest of the French journalists highlights the urgent need for reform for press freedom in the Papua region, according to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s acting director, Jane Worthington.

“The IFJ has long criticised the blocking tactics utilised by authorities to stop journalists entering West Papua,” she said. “This only serves to fuel misinformation and suggests an attempt to conceal information from the world. We strongly condemn this extreme response and call for all charges to be dropped and the pair immediately released.”

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

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

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