JAYAPURA: Two French journalists were on Friday (Oct 24) handed short jail terms for illegally reporting in Indonesia’s Papua province, but will walk free next week after already having served the time in custody, their lawyer said.
Thomas Dandois, 40, and Valentine Bourrat, 29, were detained at the start of August while making a documentary for Franco-German television channel Arte about the separatist movement in eastern Papua. Indonesia is deeply sensitive about journalists covering Papua, where a low-level insurgency against the central government has simmered for decades, and rarely grants visas for foreigners to report independently in the region.
At the trial in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, the pair were charged with breaking immigration laws since they were reporting with tourist, not journalist, visas – a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.
Prosecutors had sought a four-month sentence during the trial, which started this week, saying the journalists had admitted their mistake and apologised. However a panel of judges handed them a sentence of only two months and 15 days, their lawyer Aristo Pangaribuan told AFP. They will be released next week, he said.
“This decision is good because they will go home on Monday,” said the lawyer. “But from a legal perspective, this is not very good because it opens the door for the criminalisation of journalistic activities.” They did not plan to appeal, he added.
Foreign journalists detained in the past for illegally reporting in Papua were swiftly deported. Indonesia’s Independent Alliance of Journalists has said this is the first time that foreign journalists have been tried for immigration violations in Papua.
Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, urged Indonesia to overhaul the complex system for foreign journalists to apply for visas to report on Papua. Currently, 18 different government agencies have to approve a foreign journalist visa for Papua, he said. “Reporters won’t use tourist visas if it is fair to apply for journalist ones,” he said.
Dandois was detained at a hotel in the city of Wamena with members of separatist group the Free Papua Movement (OPM), and Bourrat was detained shortly afterwards, according to authorities. The OPM has been at the forefront of the fight against the central government in the resource-rich but poor and ethnically Melanesian region.