Indonesia: Easing journalist restrictions on Papua must be backed with policy changes 

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (C) speaks to the media in Sorong, West Papua 28 December 2014 in this photo taken by Antara Foto

June 10, Jakarta: The International Partnership Mission to Indonesia (IPMI) welcomes the recent announcement by Indonesian President Joko Widodo that restrictions on foreign journalists seeking to cover the country’s easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua will be lifted. The IPMI strongly encourages the President to back his statements with concrete changes in policy to ensure that journalists are free to operate in all parts of Indonesia, and to take further steps to protect the safety of both foreign and Indonesian journalists, in line with the mission’s 2014 recommendations.

On May 10, 2015, President Widodo announced his intention to end long-standing restrictions on foreign reporting in Papua and West Papua. Although freedom of the press is guaranteed by Indonesia‘s Press Law and its Constitution, foreign journalists have been required to obtain a journalist visa in order to work in the country. Journalists who wish to report from sensitive regions such as Papua and West Papua must seek permission from a range of government officials, including the military and police, which can be difficult to obtain. Authorities have also expelled foreign journalists covering these regions on the basis that they would disturb Indonesia‘s national interest.

The IPMI visited Indonesia in December 2014 to discuss freedom of expression with media stakeholders in Indonesia, including the government, journalists, and civil society groups. The mission concluded with 19 recommendations, including that the authorities end the long-standing restrictions on covering sensitive regions. While the President’s announcement that restrictions on accessing Papua and West Papua are being lifted is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done by the Indonesia Government in order to fully guarantee freedom of expression, in line with its international human rights obligations.

The IPMI remains concerned about the safety of journalists, who face widespread violence and intimidation, and urges the government to make greater efforts to hold perpetrators of violence against journalists and media workers to account. The IPMI also reiterates the need for the government to provide better protection for digital rights in its legal framework and to do more to promote editorial independence and media diversity.

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