Call on new Indonesian president for more open and transparent approach to media

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) in welcoming the Indonesia’s new President, Joko Widodo, and requesting his earliest attention to the case of two French journalists who have been in detention in Indonesia for the past two months. The trial of the French journalists begins today, following their arrest in in West Papua for “abusive use of entry visas”.

Today, the IFJ again called on the Indonesian government to dismiss the charges against Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat as a matter of urgency as it issued a letter to the new president calling for clemency in the case. AJI also requested a more open and transparent approach to foreign media by the new president.

On August 6, Dandois and Bourrat were arrested in Wewena, West Papua, where they were working for Franco-German television channel Arte, covering a story on the Free Papua Movement (OPM). They were charged for entering Indonesia on tourist visas while working. Since their arrest over two months ago, the pair have been in police custody and had video footage, audio recordings as well as their laptops and mobile phones seized by police.

In its letter to the president, the IFJ said: “The IFJ appreciates that Indonesia has worked to improve media laws and the environment for journalists since 1998, yet the ongoing restrictions on media in the far-eastern provinces has remained challenged – to the point now that two respected international journalists are being treated like criminals for simply doing their job.”

West Papua is Indonesia’s eastern-most province, and the scene of a low-level separatist movement. The IFJ said the arrest and prosecution of the French journalists reflected the Indonesian government’s long-standing policy of obstructing independent media coverage.

The IFJ also noted that in October 2013, Papuan Governor Lukas Enemble promised to reopen access to the province to foreign journalists but the promise had not materialised, with many international journalists still facing serious obstacles including the ‘clearing committee’ approval process on visas. Those who do get approved are invariably shadowed by official minders, who strictly control their movements and access to interviewees.

“The arrest of Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat also clearly shows the serious deficiencies in the handling of international media,” the IFJ said. “We remind President Joko Widodo of his words prior to his inauguration that he would open up Papua to foreign media when he declared ‘we have nothing to hide’.”

In earlier statements, the French Union of Journalists (SNJ, SNJ-CGT, CDFT-journalists) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) have join the IFJ and AJI deploring the arrest and calling for the immediate deportation of the pair, which is the usual action taken in these cases.

On September 3, the IFJ sent and the French Union of Journalists sent letters to the then Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urging him to use his presidential role to order their pardon and a secure and safe passage out of Indonesia. Today, on the inauguration of Indonesia’s new President, issued a letter to Joko Widodo, calling for him to order the immediate release of the pair and secure their immediate return to France.  

Eko Maryardi, President of AJI said: “We condemn the arrest and detention of Thomas and Valentine and call for a fair trial, remembering the government and authorities that they are not criminals but journalists who came to Indonesia without proper visas.”

“AJI demand the new government of Jokowi be more open, transparent and lenient, and make the process for foreign journalists applying for visas easier and more clear. Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat entered Indonesia without proper documentation because the visa process was unclear and difficult. We call on President Joko Widodo to treat Papua the same way the rest of the country is treated.”

In an earlier statement the French Union of Journalists said “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 Asia Pacific acting director Jane Worthington said: “Incoming-President Joko Widodo has an opportunity to open up Papua and make a statement about media freedom in Indonesia from his first day as President. We hold the President to account of his earlier comments on this issue and the prompt release of Thomas and Valentine would demonstrate action on that declaration.”

Reporters without Borders have launched an online petition calling for the immediate release of Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, which has received over 8000 signatures worldwide. You can sign the petition here. 

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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