Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to keep his election promise to allow local and international journalists to operate in West Papua without obstruction or surveillance.
The Paris-based global media freedom watchdog RSF’s appeal follows the expulsion of French journalists Franck Escudie and Basile Longchamp on visa violation grounds last month.
Accompanied by a film crew, Escudie and Longchamp arrived in Indonesia in February with the government’s permission to make a documentary that would involve filming in West Papua.
However, shortly after arriving, the authorites accused them of displaying a “lack of coordination with related institutions” – with the result that they were deported on March 17 and, for the time being, are banned from returning to Indonesia.
“We remind the Indonesian president of his undertaking to scrap the restrictions that obstruct the work of foreign journalists in West Papua,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Indonesia is due to host the World Press Freedom Day celebrations on May 3 but, given its repeated refusals to issue press visas and the growing number of journalists on its blacklist, it falls far short of qualifying as a country that supports freedom of expression and media freedom.”
During his campaign for election as president in July 2014, Widodo said he would allow journalists to visit West Papua freely, thereby raising hopes that media freedom would revive in the region.
Visa regulations draconian
But the visa regulations are as draconian as ever and West Papua’s immigration officials and military continue to abuse their authority in order to prevent independent reporting, with the government in Jakarta’s tacit consent.
In January 2016, RSF condemned the Indonesian government’s refusal to let French journalist Cyril Payen visit Indonesia after France 24 broadcast the documentary he had just made about West Papua, entitled Forgotten war of the Papuas.
A Bangkok-based reporter specialising in Southeast Asia, Payen had nonetheless obtained all the necessary authorisations before visiting West Papua in mid-2015.
The broadcasting of the documentary also resulted in the French ambassador being summoned to the Indonesian foreign ministry.
It was under Indonesia’s immigration laws, which RSF has repeatedly condemned, that two British journalists, Rebecca Prosser and Neil Bonner, were sentenced to two and a half months in prison on 3 November 2015 for violating the terms of their visas.
They had already spent more than 150 days in police custody when they were finally sentenced.
Two French journalists, Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, were arrested while preparing a report in West Papua in August 2014.
After being held for more than two months, they were sentenced on 24 October 2014 to two and a half months in prison for violating the immigration laws.
Indonesia is ranked 130th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.