Release detained French journalists in Papua

SEAPA urges Indonesian authorities to immediately release two French journalists arrested in Papua since August 6.

Police detained the two journalists, Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, who were filming undercover a documentary on the restive region of Papua for the French-German TV network Arte. They are now in their fourth week of detention.

Indonesian authorities charged Dandois and Bourrat of misusing their visas, as they entered Indonesia with tourist visas but conducted journalism work in Papua. Foreign journalists covering the conflict in Papua are routinely barred from entering by the Indonesian government.

Police said that Dandois, a veteran video documentary maker, was arrested in Wamena with three members of an “armed criminal gang”, an official euphemism for the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM). There is no information on how Bourrat, a videographer, was arrested.

Video footage, audio recordings and the journalists’ phones had been seized, according to authorities.

Papua provincial  police have accused the duo of supporting the separatists, saying “we can prove that they are not journalists”. They have been reported to face up to five years in prison and a 42,000 USD fine.

Both journalists are now detained at the Jayapura immigration office. Foreign journalists who have been caught entering Papua are usually deported immediately. 

We view both the detention of Dandois and Bourat and ongoing ban of foreign journalists in Papua as blatant violations of Indonesia’s own Press Law (U.U. 40, 1999).

Furthemore, the extended detention of Dandois and Bourrat without any clear legal proceeding is illegal. Indonesia authorities must make clear what charges the duo are facing and must also justify their continued detention.

In our view, it is important for the government of Indonesia to use the Press Law in handling the case, as it protects freedom of the press in the country, guarantees against censorship, prohibitions and restrictions of the media, and its right to access information.

Bourrat and Dandois are established journalists who were working as members of the media at the time of their arrest. Journalists must not be restricted from covering conflict and other sensitive topics, which is a valid ground for refusing to inform government of their mission.

In using the visa issue as ground for their detention, it is impractical, and more importantly potentially restrictive for governments to require journalists visas for visiting journalists.

SEAPA supports the 11 August letter of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) to the Indonesian Press Council confirming that the journalists arrested are working for recognized and reputable French media. AJI also requested the Indonesian Press Council to do its best to secure the release and drop the charges against both journalists.

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