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Journalists can return to Papua, says Indonesian President Widodo

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has lifted reporting restrictions in West Papua and granted clemency to five political prisoners

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo has lifted reporting restrictions in West Papua and granted clemency to five political prisoners


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Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced that as of Sunday, May 10, foreign journalists will be allowed full access to Papua after years of reporting restrictions in the region.

For decades, only local journalists were allowed to enter Papua and questions were raised over the objectivity and reliability of their reporting. Foreign journalists often faced lengthy processes and requests were often denied by the Indonesian Government, resulting in a lack of reliable reporting on human right abuses committed in the region against pro-independence activists by the Indonesian military.

In August 2014, French journalists Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat were detained for filming a documentary on the separatist Free Papua Movement (FPM) without official permission, and were given a short jail sentence by a court in the provincial capital of Jayapura.

“We need to create a sense of peace in Papua. This is just the beginning,” Mr Widodo told reporters in Jayapura.

During his visit, Mr Widodo also granted clemency to five Papuan prisoners in Abepura prison in Jayapura, presenting each of them with a letter confirming their release.

The five men — Linus Hiluka, Apotnalogolik Lokobal, Jefrai Murib, Numbungga Telenggen, and Kimanus Wenda — were convicted in 2003 after a raid on an Indonesian National Armed Forces weapons arsenal in Wamena, Papua, with prison sentences ranging from 19 years to life imprisonment. While Murib and Telenggen were directly involved in the attack, the other three were convicted mainly for their pro-independence views.

Although seen as an improvement, concerns remain as to how effective the lifting of press restrictions will be, and how it will alter the fates of dozens of other people currently imprisoned for political crimes.

Researcher Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch Indonesia said that Mr Widodo’s move was more like “image-crafting”, and that while the move is a good step, it is “nothing new.”

“The release of five prisoners raises hope that the many political prisoners still held would be freed, but they remain unlawfully behind bars,” Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phelim Kine said in a statement.

“If President Widodo is serious about addressing Papua’s toxic fear, impunity, and violations of human rights, he should start by releasing all political prisoners, freeing the media, and demanding meaningful investigations into abuses.”

Currently there are 38 Papuans imprisoned on charges of supporting the pro-independence movement, including raising the FPM’s Morning Star flag and participating in anti-government protests. The Indonesian security forces have been accused of torturing political activists and protesters in detention.

The Free Papua Movement is a separatist organisation fighting for the independence of Papua, which is among Indonesia’s most underdeveloped provinces. The region is notorious for violence, with poorly-armed rebels often subject to attacks by the Indonesian military.

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Journalists can return to Papua, says Indonesian President Widodo