French journalists in West Papua released after 2 month sentence
October 28, 2014
We are happy to report that French journalists Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, who were jailed by the Indonesian government for reporting in West Papua, have been released after months of international campaigning from supporters.
In an attempt to cover up atrocities in West Papua, the Indonesian government still systematically bans all foreign journalists from West Papua and Thomas and Valentine are the latest journalists to be arrested. The pair were arrested by Indonesian police in Wamena on 6th August simply for being journalists in West Papua. Thomas and Valentine were making a Television documentary for the French/German TV Network Arte but had to abandon their film when the Indonesian police arrested them and confiscated their footage. The pair received threats of a 20 year jail sentence for “subversion” but the prosecution then decided to charge them with “violating immigration rules” which carries a 5 year jail sentence and 40,000 US dollar fine.
International pressure for their release
Ever since their arrest, thousands of people from all across the world have been campaigning for their freedom and even the Australian government passed a motion which called on the Indonesian president to release the pair. Recently a petition for the freeing of Thomas and Valentine was launched by friends in France and got over 10,000 signatures. The Free West Papua Campaign has also organised international protests for the journalists and earlier this month in West Papua, thousands of people took to the streets to protest for the release of Thomas and Valentine. Many West Papuans themselves were also arrested during these protests which they held; risking their own lives to ensure that media freedom and justice prevail for Thomas and Valentine and throughout West Papua as a whole.
The journalists release
The journalists’ trial took place on 20th October and although it looked initially as if they would be sentenced to 4 months in jail, the judge decided to lighten their sentence to 2.5 months and a 200 US dollar fine. Having now already served all this time, the journalists were released today.
Though we are very happy that the journalists have been finally released, we fully condemn the Indonesian authorities, including the government for sentencing them in the first place. Thomas and Valentine committed no crime in telling the world the truth about the illegal occupation of West Papua and were only doing their duty as journalists. The considerable reduction in their sentencing from the former 5 years asked by the prosecution is due to the incredible international pressure for the journalists release, greatly embarrassing Indonesia at the world level.
These actions have shown to the world that the Indonesian government is too stubborn to release the pair without any charges but significantly pressured enough from the outside world to set them free within a week. International NGO Human Rights Watch also condemned the sentencing of the journalists, describing how “their arrest and conviction reflects the Indonesian government’s willingness to steamroll journalists’ rights in order to keep foreign media from reporting from Papua.” and “Dandois and Bourrat’s plight suggests that the government still has plenty to hide and will punish those who challenge its repressive chokehold on foreign media access to Papua.”
Our thanks to all those who have helped
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have helped Thomas and Valentine to be released; through protests, letters and other actions, ensuring that the Indonesian government cannot get away with locking up foreign journalists just for telling the truth about West Papua. We would also like to give great thanks to all the thousands of West Papuans, many of whom were arrested themselves and risked their lives by protesting for the freeing of the journalists.
This case shows how the iron wall of Indonesian government repression of media freedom in West Papua can be beaten and will be beaten with substantial internal and international pressure. If such pressure can help to free foreign journalists in under three months, it can surely help to free the scores of other West Papuan political prisoners and ultimately help to free all the people of West Papua from Indonesian repression and colonialism once and for all.