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Pressure mounts on West Papua as French journalists mark one month in detention

Monday marks one month in detention for French journalists Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat who were arrested alongside three members of the West Papua separatist movement (OPM) in Wewena, West Papua. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) Indonesia in calling for the immediate release for two French journalists.

Dandois and Bourrat, were in Indonesia working on a documentary about the separatist movement for the Franco-German television channel Arte when they were arrested in Indonesia’s eastern-most province. West Papua, which has a long-running separatist movement and is a sensitive region in Indonesia, closely guarded by the Indonesian Government and closed off to foreign journalists. Following their arrest, the pair has since been detained by immigration officials, had video footage, audio recordings and the journalist’s belongings including phones and laptops seized.

On Friday, September 5, the Indonesian Press Council and Aliansi Jurnalis Independen held a joint press conference calling for the immediate release of the two journalists. The conference was also attended by the French Embassy in Jakarta and the pair’s lawyer. Dandois and Bourrat have been charged with violating Act 122 on misusing stay permits of Law no. 6/211 on immigration, because they were working in West Papua on tourist visas.

Traditionally journalists who are found working in Indonesia, including the West Papua region on tourist visas are immediately deported. This was the case in 2014, when two French journalists were deported after being arrested while trying to cover a protest outside Papua’s parliament.

Last week, the lawyer representing Dandois and Bourrat, Aristo Pangaribuan, said “there is a huge possibility that both of them will go to trial”. If found guilty they face five year’s jail and fines upwards of 40,000 US dollars. It has also been suggested the pair may be charged with subversion for being present during a Free Papua Movement (OPM) firefight.

On September 3, the IFJ and the French Union of Journalists (SNJ, SNJ-CGT, CFDT-Journalists) sent letters to 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. In its letter, 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.”

In statement following the Indonesian press conference, AJI President Eko Maryardi said: “These arrests add to a long list of failures by the Government of Indonesia under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to maintain freedom of press in all parts of Indonesia, as well as evidence of the lack of openness to Papua in terms of access to information and journalist safety in the region”

“We denounce the detention of the two journalists, which contradicts the country’s apparent press freedom, and call for the immediate release of Dandois and Bourrat. We remind the authorities that removal of property may be subject to charges of censorship and we call for President SBY to quickly resolve the issue before the end of his term and without the involvement of international bodies.”

The IFJ Acting-Director Jane Worthington echoed these comments: “The contradictory comments coming from Indonesia regarding journalists’ rights is both confusing and damaging for security of the media internationally as well as local media workers. With this in mind, we call on you now, in your final weeks as Indonesia’s President to order the immediate release of Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat and allow their safe and secure passage home.”

The IFJ says the unstable and unsafe environment in West Papua was further highlighted this week when a West Papuan pro-independence activist Martinus Yohame was found in a sack floating in the sea near a West Papuan village. He had been missing for less than a week, going missing just days before the Indonesian President was due to visit the region.

The murder of Yohame highlights the dangerous conditions that Dandois and Bourrat are been exposed to and are at risk with reports they were working on a pro-independence documentary.

On Tuesday, September 23, there will be a vigil held outside the Indonesian Consulate in Maroubra, Sydney, Australia, from 4pm.

Date posted: September 9, 2014 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 13