Government keeps restrictive policy for foreign journalists covering in West Papua

An interview on 23 May 2019 with the head of the immigration division in the regional office of the Ministry for Law and Human Rights in Papua Province, Mr. Hermansyah Siregar (see intro image), has confirmed what human rights organisations had been criticising since May 2015, when President Joko Widodo announced the opening of West Papua to foreign journalists. West Papua remains a restricted area for foreign journalist. Any journalist visa will only be approved once the applicant has obtained all necessary documents through the Clearing House procedure, a lengthy bureaucratic procedure which is mandatory for foreign journalists intending to cover in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and Papua Barat.

Hermansyah Siregar re-confirmed during the interview that foreigners in West Papua - particularly journalist – continue to be strictly monitored by security force members. The surveillance was a preventive measure to ensure that journalists would not produce ‘provocative’ news, said Siregar. Foreigners are only permitted to work in West Papua if their work is beneficial without jeopardizing the security and the sovereignty of the Indonesian State.          

Background

On the 10 May 2015, President Joko Widodo publicly announced that foreign journalists would have free access to work in West Papua, stating that he had already discussed the matter with his ministers, the national police chief and military generals. Jokowi explained during the interview that the Clearing House procedure would be abolished and foreign journalists covering events in West Papua would no longer need a special permission differing from the permission for other parts of Indonesia.

The burdensome application process takes several months and requires approval from twelve different state agencies, including the military. The permission is only approved with the condition that journalists cover non-political issues, related to development or culture. If foreign journalists get a visa and permission for media coverage in Papua Province, the local police and military will monitor them, including the persons they meet and interview.

So far, it remained unclear to what extent President Joko Widodo’s commitment in 2015 was actually implemented. The major problem is that President Jokowi’s public statement was never enforced through a government regulation. Such a regulation should guarantee that foreign journalists can cover news events freely in West Papua without intimidation, limitations or being escorted by security force members during media coverage.

During the 3rd cycle of Indonesia Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in May 2017, the Indonesian minister for foreign affairs, Mrs Retno Marsudi, mentioned the opening of West Papua for foreign journalists and international organizations among the government’s major human rights achievements. She elaborated that 39 foreign journalists had allegedly covered in West Papua in 2015, resembling an increase of 41% in comparison to 2014.