An alliance of South East Asian journalists have called on the Indonesian government to release two French journalists jailed in the province of Papua, claiming that their continued detention without charge is illegal.
Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat were filming a documentary for the Franco-German TV channel Arte when they were arrested on August 6. They were employed by the Momento production company.
They were arrested in the town of Wamena and transported to the capital of Jayapura, where they are still detained. Indonesian police claimed they were caught filming in the company of armed separatists.
Both journalists were on tourist visas and were originally arrested on immigration charges, which would have led to deportation. There were concerns those charges would likely be upgraded to subversion or makar (crimes against the state).
New Matilda understands it is now likely they will be charged with espionage, although in Indonesia, charges are not formally laid until a trial commences.
West Papuan activists have been staging protests across the world pressuring the Indonesian government to release Dandois and Bourrat. Indonesia restricts foreign press access to the Papua region, which has in part lead to a worldwide silence on human rights violations and the crackdown on peaceful protests in the region.
Yesterday the Southeast Asian Press Alliance called on Indonesia to release the journalists, and said their continued detention without charge was illegal.
“We view both the detention of Dandois and Bourat and the ongoing ban on foreign journalists in Papua as blatant violations of Indonesia’s own Press Law,” SEAPA said in a statement.
“Indonesia’s authorities must make clear what charges the duo are facing and must also justify their continued detention.
“… 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.”
The Alliance of Independent Journalists have stressed to the Indonesian Press Council that the journalists were working for French media.
The detention of the French journalists comes in the midst of allegations of human rights violations by security forces in the province.
Last week, a West Papuan pro-independence activist was found in a sack floating in the sea near the city of Sorong on August 26. He had gone missing shortly after calling a press conference opposing the visit of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to the town, and raising the issue of illegal logging.
There are also concerns about the safety of up to 50 West Papuan locals who may have had contact with the French journalists, according to media sources.
Amnesty International has also raised concerns over the detention of a West Papuan student who was allegedly beaten and tortured for painting pro-Independence graffiti.
West Papua has been under the control of Indonesia since the 1969 controversial “Act of Free Choice” following the departure of the Dutch in the 60s.
Indonesia’s President-elect Joko Widodo has promised to open up Papua to foreign journalists, claiming there is nothing to hide in the region.