INDEPENDENT media organizations in Southeast Asia on Tuesday urged the government of Indonesia to immediately release two French journalists who had been arrested and jailed in Papua province on Aug. 6, 2014 or for nearly a month now.
In a statement, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) decried the continued detention by the Indonesias police of journalists Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat.
The two 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 have charged Dandois and Bourrat for allegedly misusing their visas citing that 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.
SEAPA said that according to the police, Dandois, a veteran video documentary maker, was arrested in Wamena with three members of an “armed criminal gang”, government’s euphemism for the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM). There is yet no information on how Bourrat, a videographer, was arrested, SEAPA said.
The authorities had also seized the video footage, audio recordings, and phones of the two journalists.
Papua’s provincial police have accused the two of supporting the separatists, saying “we can prove that they are not journalists.” They will reportedly face up to five years in prison and pay US$42,000 in fine.
Both journalists are now detained at the Jayapura immigration office, SEAPA said. Foreign journalists who are caught entering Papua are usually deported immediately.
“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 (U.U. 40, 1999),” SEAPA said.
The extended detention of Dandois and Bourrat without any clear legal proceedings is illegal, SEAPA stressed. “Indonesia’s authorities must make clear what charges the duo are facing and must also justify their continued detention.”
According to SEAPA. “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,” SEAPA saod.
In using the visa issue as a ground for the duo’s detention, SEAPA said, “it is impractical, and more importantly, potentially restrictive for governments to require journalists visas for visiting journalists.”
SEAPA voiced support for the the letter that the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) sent on Aug, 11, 2014 to the Indonesian Press Council confirming that the detained journalists were working for recognized and reputable French media.
AJI had also requested the Indonesian Press Council to do its best to secure the release and drop the charges against both journalists.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, AJI, the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information of Indonesia (ISAI), and the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) are founding members of SEAPA.