Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the prosecution of British journalists Rebecca Prosser and Neil Bonner, who were arrested by the Indonesia navy in the Malacca Strait on 28 May for filming without a press visa and whose trial began yesterday.
RSF calls on the Indonesian authorities to stop abusing its draconian immigration legislation and to drop the proceedings against these two journalists. After being held for 125 days on the island of Batam, Rebecca Prosser and Neil Bonner appeared yesterday before a Batam district court on a charge of violating Indonesian immigration law, which carries a possible five-year jail term. The next hearing has been set for 1 October. Traditionally, foreign journalists caught working without a press visa were simply deported. “It is unacceptable that journalists should be deprived of their freedom and their loved-ones for more than four months over a mere bureaucratic irregularity,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk, “The trial that started yesterday should not be taking place. The only sensible thing for the presiding judge to do is to rapidly acquit the two journalists and those who were working with them. They were just doing their jobs as investigative reporters in what is a hotspot for maritime piracy in Southeast Asia.” Both aged 30, Prosser and Bonner work for the British documentary film production company Wall to Wall. They went to Indonesia in May to make a National Geographic-funded documentary about piracy in the Malacca Strait, near Singapore. The Indonesian navy arrested them on the island of Belakang Padang as they were filming a reenaction of pirates attacking an oil tanker. Rear Admiral Taufiqurrahman said at the time that "what they were reenacting (…) could tarnish the image of the Malacca Strait as a crime-prone area.” Nine Indonesians, including their fixer Ahmadi, are facing a possible two-year jail term or fine of 10 billion rupees (600,000 euros) for helping to film an unauthorized documentary. French journalists Valentine Bourrat and Thomas Dandois were the victims of Indonesia’s draconian immigration laws and its sensitivity about the eastern province of Papua in 2014, when the were arrested for trying to do a report about Papua’s separatists for the Franco-German TV channel Arte after entering the country on tourist visas. After being held for just over two and a half months – from 6 August to 24 October 2014 – they were convicted of “misusing an entry visa” and were given a sentence that covered the time they had already been held. Although they were then released, their conviction set a precedent that the Indonesian authorities can interpret as grounds for stepping up their surveillance and harassment of visiting foreign journalists Indonesia is ranked 138th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.