French Journalists Convicted In Papua, Sentenced To Time Served

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Dandois, Bourrat reportedly to be released on Monday

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (Pacific Scoop, Oct. 25, 2014) – Two French journalists were sentenced to two and a half months in prison yesterday for illegally reporting in Indonesia’s Papua province on tourist visas but will be released on Monday after having already served time in custody, their lawyer said.

Thomas Dandois, 40, and Valentine Bourrat, 29, were detained in August while making a documentary for Franco-German television channel Arte about the pro-independence movement in the eastern part of the West Papua region.

At their trial in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, the pair were charged with breaking immigration laws since they were reporting on tourist, not journalist, visas – a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.

Indonesia is deeply sensitive about journalists covering Papua, where a low-level insurgency against the Jakarta government has simmered for decades, and rarely grants visas allowing foreigners to report in the region.

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 added.

"This decision is good because they will go home on Monday," said the lawyer.

Legal perspective

"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 (AJI) 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 pro-independence 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 region, which is poor and ethnically Melanesian.

In Paris, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomed the imminent release of Dandois and Bourrat.

But RSF also criticised the fact that they were found guilty despite their right under international treaties to gather information as journalists.

"It is a big relief to know that Dandois and Bourrat will soon be released," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire. "Any other outcome would have set a terrible precedent for media freedom in Indonesia. We stress that, according to the principles of international law, they did not commit any crime by courageously undertaking their investigative reporting in Indonesia."

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