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Open access for foreign journalists in Papua? Cautious welcome for Indonesian president's promise

On 2 April 2014, a protester takes part in a rally near the Indonesian embassy in London, highlighting the detention of 76 political prisoners in Indonesia's West Papua province
On 2 April 2014, a protester takes part in a rally near the Indonesian embassy in London, highlighting the detention of 76 political prisoners in Indonesia's West Papua province

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

This statement was originally published on on 11 May 2015.

The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) conveys its appreciation towards President Joko Widodo's statement that he would open wide the gates for foreign journalists to carry out their journalistic duties in Papua. Nevertheless, AJI asserts that evidence will still be needed to validate the goodwill of the President.

Since Papua became part of Indonesia, a working restriction has been enforced particularly on foreign journalists covering this easternmost region of Indonesia. Foreign journalists who would cover Papua had to pass through a clearing house that involved 12 ministries or state institutions, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Police Department, State Intelligence Agency, to the Coordinating Ministry of Political, Legal and Security Affairs. This procedure has become a tool used by the state to impede journalists intending to cover Papua without restriction. This clearing house scheme is not transparent in practice since it has no clear legal basis.

AJI believes that the first measure to adopt in order to open access as widely as possible for foreign journalists is by terminating this clearing house scheme. It is only reasonable that foreign journalists be allowed to cover Papua freely, just as they would be in other regions in Indonesia. The practice of press freedom at the local level will have been achieved when there are no more intimidating practices by the security forces against foreign journalists - these have taken the form of being spied on, followed, or terrorized, all of which obstruct their journalistic duties. Similarly, the practice of free reporting should be also applied in other regions in Indonesia such as Central Sulawesi or Aceh.

According to AJI, wide open access in Papua for journalists will definitely be the dawn of progress for the people of Papua province. It will be much easier to unveil corruption and human rights violations that have long been seemingly covered up and cultivated by a group of people. The perpetrators, human right violators and grafters should be imprisoned. On the other hand, the advancement of Papua development will also be revealed to the world. Accordingly, transparency and information disclosure will eventually generate progress for this region. And as a result of journalistic principles being well applied, the central government in Jakarta will consequently receive balanced and verified information.

Opening up vast access for journalists in Papua will confirm that press freedom is respected in all regions in the country. True press freedom would be an assurance that there is no more discrimination against the people of Papua. This will also simultaneously guarantee the public's right to information, in line with Law number 40 of 1999 on Press, where it is stated that freedom of the press shall be guaranteed as the basic right of the citizen, and that to guarantee press freedom, journalists have the right to seek, obtain and spread ideas and information without censorship, banning, or prohibitions on broadcasting.

In addition to its welcoming of Jokowi's announcement, AJI Indonesia will continually watch and observe the clearing of access for foreign journalists. AJI also urges the government to provide a guarantee in the form of regulations, and not merely a promise, to assure that what the President has stated will be implemented in practice.

Jakarta, 11 May 2015

President of AJI

Iman D Nugroho
Head of AJI's Advocacy Department

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