Papuans call for release of French journalists
Updated 15 August 2014, 8:41 AEST
A local activist, himself just released from prison, is calling for their immediate release.
But Victor Yeimo is also keen to highlight that the fate of the journalists is something the local population faces everyday.
Reporter: Kerri Worthington
Speaker: Victor Yeimo, chairman of the West Papua National Committee; Andreas Harsono, Human Rights Watch, Indonesia
WORTHINGTON: The journalists were detained late last week along with a number of local human rights activists.
The pair work for a Franco-German television channel and were reported to be making a documentary about the separatist movement in Papua province.
Andreas Harsono, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Indonesia, says Papua police accuse the pair of associating with what the Indonesians call armed criminal groups.
HARSONO: The police said that they were suspected of trying to attract international attention of Papua, to raise the rebellion of Papua. The charge is misusing their tourist visa to do journalism wok. Under Indonesian law, if you are going to do reporting work you have to apply for a journalist visa.
WORTHINGTON: Activist Victor Yeimo is the chairman of the West Papua National Committee.
He was released from Abepura Prison earlier this month after more than a year in incarceration for what authorities said was treason.
Speaking via a rough mobile connection from the provincial capital Jayapura, Mr Yeimo has joined calls for the release of the French journalists.
YEIMO: We have to communicate with the police in Papua that they have to, they have to release the international journalists. We always meet international journalists who come to West Papua and then we guide them. We always get into trouble because we have good relations with them when they come here.
WORTHINGTON: It's notoriously difficult for journalists to be allowed in to Papua, but it's not the first time journalists have been arrested for reporting on the situation there.
Victor Yeimo says the arrest of the French journalists may help to highlight the situation that constantly faces independence activists.
YEIMO: They get arrested every day for their freedom of expression. So it's not only the international journalists. This is the situation in West Papua that all the people, the activists, are terrorised and intimidated by Indonesian police in West Papua now.
Victor Yeimo says Indonesia plays up the province's Special Autonomy status, that he and other activists call a sham arrangement that works to the detriment of the indigenous population.
YEIMO: I want the international community to not hear the Indonesian media propaganda of the Indonesian elite. I want the international community to hear what we want, what we are talking about in West Papua, because we stay here in reality, we know the reality.
Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch says media freedom has been severely restricted since Indonesia took control of Papua province in 1963.
HORSONO: It raises a lot of questions. Human Rights Watch has been campaigning for the Indonesian government to lift the restrictions for foreign journalists to cover West Papua because West Papua has been practically isolated for more than 50 years. There must be something going on wrong inside West Papua if the restriction has been going on that long.
WORTHINGTON: The unrest in the Indonesian province of Papua is not high on the international agenda.
Even among the Melanesian countries, only the government of Vanuatu regularly speaks out in support of the independence movement.
Victor Yeimo says Indonesia gives Melanesian countries a lot of money to garner support for its sovereignty, but he doesn't believe that will change the way Melanesians think about Papua.
YEIMO: Whatever the policies from the government, the West Papuan people believe in the Melanesian brotherhood. So we believe one day the Melanesian countries will help us. Not only in Vanuatu, but we believe that Solomon Islands, PNG, Fiji Kanak, they don't change their policies when they know about our cry for freedom, because the people of Melanesia from that country, they stand up strong for us now.