Saturday, August 9, 2014

West Papua: Two French Documentary Filmmakers Arrested, Jailed in West Papua

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, two French documentary filmmakers have been arrested and jailed in West Papua for visa violations, underlining the tough approach Indonesian authorities still take to media scrutiny in high-threat region.

The police chief of the Lanny Jaya area, Senior Commissioner Adolf Beay, confirmed that his officers had detained one journalist working in the Papuan highlands.

''He was using a tourist visa, but in fact he was performing journalistic work,'' Commissioner Beay said.

The French Embassy in Jakarta later clarified that there were two journalists, Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, in custody in Jayapura.

''They were journalists doing a documentary for the TV channel Arte,'' press attache Dominique Roubert said.

It is understood the documentary was about the Papuan independence movement, and the pair were caught with three activists from what Indonesian media has identified as the Free Papua Movement (OPM).

Roubert said the French Embassy had been in contact with the journalists, who were being interrogated by police but otherwise had been ''well-treated."

COMMENT: The Papuan police spokesman, senior commissioner Sulistyo Pudjo, said Dandois, 40, was arrested on Wednesday (August 6) in the company of three members of  the OPM.

''We were worried that his activities here were part of an effort to destabilize Papua,'' Pudjo said. He was concerned, he said, that ''foreign journalists deliberately manipulate the security situation'' in the province.

Western reporters wanting to work in Indonesia must have a journalist’s visa, but working in Papua and West Papua is even more restrictive, and reporters must gain another, hard-to-get permission form from the Foreign Affairs Department, signed off by the gamut of Indonesian government authorities, including police and military.

Indonesia is highly sensitive about the state of the Papua and West Papua provinces, which have hosted a long-running, but low-level separatist insurgency, as well as intractable poverty, social and environmental issues.

On a recent trip to Papua, US ambassador to Indonesia Robert Blake drew special attention, suggesting Indonesia would be better off if it lifted its restrictions on foreign journalists reporting on Papua.

Dandois has reported from Somalia, Burma, Kosovo, Darfur and the Gaza Strip. He was arrested and jailed for a month while covering the Tuareg rebellion in northern Niger in 2007. Bourrat is a freelance photographer and videographer.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available. 

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly spelled Thomas Dandois' surname as Tendeis; and Police Commissioner Adolf Beay's surname as Beyage.