JAYAPURA (Radio France Internationale / Amnesty International / KNPB News / Solomon Star / Pacific Media Watch): Two under cover French journalists arrested in West Papua last week, Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, were reporting for a documentary for a Franco-German channel Arte and have been accused of working illegally in Indonesia.
Thomas Dandois, 40,was arrested in his hotel in the city of Wamena in the West Papuan Highlands on Thursday. He was with three members of the outlawed Free Papua Movement (OPM), which has fought for decades for independence for the Melanesian provinces from the Indonesian government, reported Radio France Internationale.
It is unclear under which circumstances Valentine Bourrat, 29, was arrested.
According to Indonesian police in Papua, these OPM members come from an area in the centre of Papua where five of them were killed last week during a gun battle with the Indonesian military.
Two policemen were also killed earlier in the week in an ambush.
The OPM rebels accuse the government and the army of repression against the West Papuans.
The provincial police spokesperson, Sulityo Pudjo Hartono, said the authorities were concerned that the French nationals were part of a plan to create insecurity and instability in Papua.
Foreign journalists who are detained in Papua are usually deported.
However, Hartono said that Dandois and Bourrat were still being held for questioning.
The French Embassy indicated that they were in contact with the journalists, and with the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and the police in Jakarta and in West Papua.
Both journalists were reportedly working illegally in the country, with tourist visas.
Jakarta’s government rarely issues visas to journalists who want to go to West Papua.
Police often claim that journalists are denied permission to enter for their own security.
Indonesia has been frequently criticised for its effective ban on foreign journalists in West Papua, with the New Zealand parliament passing a motion calling for the "right of local and international journalists to report on the political situation [in West Papua] without risk of imprisonment or harassment" by the ruling state of Indonesia.
Dandois has reported from Somalia, Burma, Kosovo, Darfur and the Gaza Strip.
He was arrested and jailed for a month while covering the Tuareg rebellion in northern Niger in 2007.
Bourrat is a freelance photographer and videographer.
Demand for release
Benny Wenda, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of the Free West Papua campaign, released a statement calling for their release.
"We thank them for their bravery and support in working to tell our story. For 52 years now the Indonesian military has been trying to hide what they are doing in West Papua and keep us silent. This is why they always try to stop the foreign journalists reporting.
"But with the determination of our people and the growing support of people all around the world, finally, after 500,000 of our people already killed, we are being heard.
"We are calling for all people around the world who believe in justice, freedom and democracy, including all journalists and media to support the two French journalists, and put pressure on the Indonesian government to release them immediately.
"This is 21st century and still Indonesia is arresting journalists for telling the truth."
In a separate incident last week, two young members of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) have allegedly been beaten unconscious with rifle butts and made to drink paint by the Indonesian military.
The KNPB is calling for a boycott of any celebrations of Indonesian Independence Day, on August 17, and KNPB members Robert Helemaken, 17, and Oni Weya, 21, were reportedly arrested and "beaten to a pulp" while participating in a demonstration where boycott calls were being painted on the walls and streets of Manokwari.
Helemaken is a high school student while Weya is a student at the University of Papua. Both were reportedly beaten in the streets and then again in the police station.
Amnesty International has declared the incident an act of torture by the Indonesian police.
In a press statement released on Saturday, Amnesty International said: "The two students are prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally. They were arrested and remain in detention solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression."
Amnesty International has appealed for the public to email the Papua Regional Head of Police Jotje Mende and calling for the release of Yelemaken and Weya, and for them to be given access to lawyers and taken for medical treatment.
Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands has set up a new diplomatic office in Indonesia, the Solomon Star newspaper reported.
The newspaper reported that Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo had "pledged to pursue the West Papua issue" through the new office. But details of what exactly this meant were thin, with Lilo saying only that he wanted to go to the root of the problem and solve the facts, not rumours.
“The only way is to engage in partnership for a best solution. With understanding of the issues, it will be better in handling the issues when on the ground,” Lilo told the Solomon Star.
At the moment, Vanuatu is the only Melanesian state to officially support West Papua.
PMW editor's note: An earlier PMW report sourced from the Sydney Morning Herald incorrectly identified one of the arrested journalists as Thomas Charles Tendeis. This has since been corrected.
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