The Jakarta Post
President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo may have confidently ordered his Cabinet ministers and the security apparatus to open up Papua to foreign journalists, but his ministers appear unenthusiastic about overturning decades-long policy on restricted media access.
Coordinating Political, Legal & Security Affairs Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno said the government would maintain its controversial 'clearance house' team, which scrutinized the visits of foreign journalists to Papua. It recently changed its name to the Monitoring Team for Foreign Journalists in Indonesia.
The team, consisting of 12 government ministries and agencies, as well as the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police, will retain its previous functions despite the name change.
'[What the team does is] monitor the journalists' movements. If for instance, they enter dangerous territory, we'd be able to watch over them so no one ends up missing,' Tedjo said on Tuesday.
The President announced his policy on May 10 while visiting the rebellious provinces of Papua and West Papua. The area has been closed to international media coverage for several decades on the basis that the presence of journalists there will endanger security and stability in the country's eastern most provinces.
The government also practiced such a policy in Aceh during the civil war there and in East Timor (now Timor Leste), when the latter was still under Indonesia's control.
'We aren't spying on them [the journalists]. We're simply monitoring their activities,' Tedjo said.
He added that local law and security enforcers were responsible for the safety of foreign journalists venturing into the area, but maintained that the government's prerogative was to protect national interests.
'Foreign journalists should still respect Indonesia as a sovereign country with its own set of laws and regulations,' he said.
Separately, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu expanded on the government's policy of opening up the Papua region to foreign journalists.
Ryamizard told a press briefing on Tuesday that the Jokowi administration was committed to such a policy as long as foreign journalists helped to communicate Indonesia's interests.
'We will support them if they produce good reports, but we can easily expel them if they are found commiting sedition,' said Ryamizard.
Meanwhile, University of Indonesia international law expert Hikmahanto Juwana was hopeful that international press coverage could help eliminate the negative perceptions of Indonesia, especially on Papua-related issues.
'There should not be any discrimination. Foreign journalists and media outlets are subject to sanctions from the Indonesian Press Council if found guilty of violating the journalistic code of ethics,' Hikmahanto explained.
'Just because they are foreign journalists, it doesn't mean they get special treatment.'
2009: Police arrested four Dutch journalists in Papua for covering a rally marking the return of Free Papua Organization (OPM) cofounder Nicholas Jouwe after 40 years in exile in the Netherlands. They are Gabriela Babette, Peter Mariaw Smith and Ronald Wigman are from the channel NRC TV. The fourth, Elske Schouten, is the Jakarta-based correspondent of the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.
2010: Two French television journalists, Baudouin Koenig and Carole Lorthiois, were detained in Papua after filming a human rights rally by some 100 students.
2014: French journalists Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat were arrested and jailed for not having the proper permits to report in Papua. The journalists were caught trying to make a documentary on a Papuan separatist movement.
On Oct. 24, 2014, the Jayapura District Court convicted Dandois and Bourrat of visa abuse and sentenced them to two months and 15 days in jail. The two journalists have been detained since Aug. 6