West Papua: Journalists to face trial

Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, two French journalists arrested by Indonesian authorities on August 6 while reporting on West Papua's independence movement, will face trial on October 20, AFP reported on October 14.

Despite a petition signed by more than 8800 people, the journalists will go on trial in a local court of West Papua for “abusive use of entry visas”.

Most journalists reporting on the conflict between West Papua and Indonesia have worked on tourist visas since 1969, as the area has been militarised in response to the independence movement. On the rare occasion that the visas are granted, state officials accompany the journalists during their investigation.

Indonesian authorities usually release journalists arrested for working on tourist visas within a few days. But in the case of Dandois and Bourrat, the government considered charging them for “subversion” because they had met with an independence leader in the district of Lanny Jaya. Five activists had been killed in the district a week earlier during a confrontation with the army.

Indigenous leader Areki Wanimbo was also arrested and charged with “rebellion” for supporting the journalists' activities on the island. The French journalists face up to US$40,000 in fines and up to five years in prison for “violation of immigration rights”.

Since a referendum imposed by the United Nations in 1969, Indonesia, a former Dutch colony, has claimed sovereignty over West Papua. Yet the referendum took place under the control of the Indonesian army, and had a 1% participation rate.

Since then, the human rights situation has caused widespread concern. Despite the obstacles to media coverage or investigation on the ground, NGOs have repeatedly denounced the repression of Indonesian security forces against the West Papuans and the killing of independence fighters.

The Indonesian government has also begun to implement a colonisation policy in West Papua ― which houses the biggest gold mine in the world ― similar to Israel in the Palestinian territories. This involves encouraging Indonesians to populate the territory by building artificial towns with hospitals and schools. These “transmigrants” are estimated to be the majority now.

[Reprinted from TeleSUR English. Sign a petition calling for the journalists to be released.]

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