British journalists sentenced for visa violations in Indonesia

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the sentencing on November 3 of two British journalists in Batam in north-western Indonesia for violating the country’s immigration law. The IFJ demands the Indonesian government immediately repeal the charges and sentences handed down and release the two journalists immediately to enable them to return home. The journalists have been detained for more than five months.

On May 29, Becky Prosser and Neil Bonner, two British journalists working for UK production company, Wall to Wall, were arrested by local police along with nine Indonesians 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 it found them filming a reenactment of a piracy scene in the Malacca Straits off Batam.

The situation of the journalist’s detainment was not reported for over three months as they were held in house arrest without charge. In September they were moved to Batam prison. The IFJ, AJI and NUJ as well as other advocacy groups have been liaising with the Indonesian government to secure their release in accordance with the wishes of the two journalists.

In a previous statement, IFJ affiliate Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (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."

Nevertheless, this week on November 3, Prosser and Bonner were sentenced to two and a half months in prison for violating immigration regulations by working while on tourist visas. They were also fined a total of 50 million rupiah (USD 1850) and remanded in custody. According to reports, the pair’s lawyer, Aristo Pangaribuan said that they would be released on Friday (November 6) for time already served, unless the prosecutors appeal the sentence.

After the sentencing, Prosser told reporters that Indonesia is now a "more dangerous landscape for journalists." While Bonner told reporters that "I feel a sense of sadness because it's journalism on trial and we have been found guilty, I don't think journalism is a crime."

IFJ president Jim Boumelha said: "It is indeed a great relief that Neil and Becky will be going back home after such a dreadful ordeal, held in house arrest for three months without charge, then jailed pending their trial. Their case raises  important issues about the media environment in Indonesia but also about the duty of care of media organisations when engaging journalists on difficult or dangerous assignments.  It is imperative that appropriate precautions are put in place and that journalists are given support at every stage.” 

The IFJ said: “Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, has said that Indonesia is open to foreign journalists, yet the arrest, charging and sentencing of Becky Prosser and Neil Bonner paint a very different picture. These charges and sentences highlight the challenges for foreign media in Indonesia and are an outrageous violation of these journalists’ rights. We call on the Indonesian government immediately repeal the sentences and release 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 were presented. 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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