Pacific Media Watch

19 September 2014

WEST PAPUA: Families of imprisoned journalists plead for their freedom

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Journalists Valentine Bourrat and Thomas Dandois have been held in jail for six weeks now. Image: Facebook

AUCKLAND (Sydney Morning Herald / Pacific Media Watch): The families of the two French journalists arrested in West Papua by Indonesian military authorities last month have pleaded for their release from prison, and say they cannot understand why the journalists are being persecuted for doing their job.

Valentine Bourrat's mother, Martine, told the Sydney Morning Herald that her husband Patrick, Valentine's father, was a war journalist who was also jailed for his writings at times, before being killed by an American tank while covering the second Gulf War in 2002.

The Herald reported:

At first, Martine said, her daughter had been most worried about having her notes and videos erased, saying: "I lost my story."

"And then [she was saying], 'I am a prisoner'. Then, 'I will stay here for days and weeks, and perhaps now for months — and I hope not for years'."

"It's very hard for us to understand because … my husband … went many times in Afghanistan and Iraq, in some countries that were very, very dangerous, and he was exposed, just like this. But he was not kept in a jail for that … I thought Indonesia was a country not so severe with the rules of immigration."

Mrs Bourrat said her daughter had been doing what she loved, saying it was Valentine's dream to get a job with Arte TV. Mrs Bourrat said she wanted clemency for her daughter from the Indonesian government.

"We think the sentence, even now, it's disproportional, compared to what they did."

Thomas Dandois' brother, Marc Dandois, said his brother had twin toddlers waiting for him at home. He too did not understand why Dandois and Bourrat had not simply been deported for their alleged visa breach. He said the two reporters "had used tourist visas because if they'd sought permission to travel there, they feared they may have been followed by Indonesian security forces, preventing them from interviewing the people they wanted to meet".

Meanwhile, West Papua Action Auckland is organising a vigil on Tuesday to call for the release of Dandois and Bourrat, and Areki Wanimbo, an indigenous leader who was arrested after meeting the journalists.

The vigil at 12:30pm at St Matthews-in-the-city Church in Auckland will launch an open letter to New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs, calling on the NZ government to advocate for the release of all three detainees, says organiser Maire Leadbeater.

"Access to West Papua for international journalists is severely restricted. In the past, journalists found travelling in the region ‘under the radar’ have been deported, but have not faced such a punitive response until now. Incoming President Joko Widodo promised an opening up of West Papua to foreign journalists during his campaign, so this is an unexpected and disturbing development," said Leadbeater.

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Pacific Media Watch

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