Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Indonesian government’s refusal to let French journalist Cyril Payen visit Indonesia following the documentary he made about West Papua, the Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea, that France 24 broadcast last October. RSF points out that Indonesian President Joko Widodo promised to allow foreign reporters to visit West Papua.
A Bangkok-based reporter specializing in Southeast Asia, Payen was able to visit West Papua in mid-2015 after obtaining all the necessary authorizations before setting off. But the French ambassador in Jakarta was summoned to the Indonesian foreign ministry after Payen’s documentary, entitled “Forgotten war of the Papuas,” was broadcast on 18 October. Indonesian officials in Bangkok then told Payen in November that he was now persona non grata in Indonesia. And finally, he was notified last week that his request for a visa to make another documentary had been turned down. “We firmly condemn this flagrant violation of media freedom and this discrimination against an independent journalist who has committed no crime,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “President Joko Widodo has hereby demonstrated that his election promise to open up West Papua to foreign journalists was pure deception. We urge him to keep this promise and to let foreign journalists do their job without having to fear surveillance, censorship or reprisals by the authorities.” Foreign journalists and NGOs were long denied access to West Papua, which was forcibly annexed by the Indonesian armed forces 50 years ago. Two French journalists, Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, were arrested while preparing a report there in August 2014. After being held for more than two months, they were sentenced on 24 October 2014 to two and a half months in prison for violating Indonesia’s immigration law. It was under the same draconian law, which RSF has repeatedly condemned, that two British journalists, Rebecca Prosser and Neil Bonner, were sentenced to two and a half months in prison on 3 November 2015 for violating the terms of their visas. They had already spent more than 150 days in police custody when they were finally sentenced. Travelling on tourist visas, they were arrested by the Indonesian navy on 28 May 2015 while filming a reenactment of pirates attacking an oil tanker for a documentary commissioned by National Geographic. Indonesia is ranked 138th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.