Immigration officers have prevented Belinda Lopez, a PhD candidate for Indonesian studies at Macquarie University, from entering Indonesia shortly after landing at the International Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali on 3 August 2018. She was detained for 17 hours in a room at the airport (see intro image) and forced to board an airplane to Australia on the following day, leaving around 10.00 pm. According to Belinda, the authorities repeatedly asked her whether she was a journalist and had “done something bad to Indonesia”.
The incident appears to be closely related to her former work as editor for the Indonesian newspapers ‘The Jakarta Post’ and ‘The Jakarta Globe’. Belinda said that Indonesian Immigration authorities denied her visa extension in 2016 after it was suspected she, as a reporter, was conducting media coverage in the province of Papua. At that time she was told that this measure was an administrative matter which meant that she could not return to Indonesia for six months. “Why am I now on the Indonesian government blacklist? For how long? For what reason? For going to Papua? This is devastating for me.” she posted in the social media platforms Twitter and Facebook.
Immigration office spokesman Agung Sampurno confirmed that Belinda Lopez was on an immigration blacklist but denied that the deportation was conducted on suspicions that she was heading to Papua as a journalist.
In 2014, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo pledged to ease media restrictions for Papua. However, human rights organisations in and outside of Indonesia statet that Indonesian authorities continue to prevent journalists from entering Papua and covering events on related issues. On 6 August 2014 Jayawijaya police arrested two French reporters, Charles Dandois and Marie Bourrat, as they returned from a meeting with Areki Wanimbo. The two were charged with breaches of immigration law for reporting without permission and were sentenced to 2.5 months imprisonment, although breaches of immigration law usually result in deportation rather than criminal charges. Prior to the trial, police spokesmen suggested the reporters could be charged with treason, an offence with a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.
The latest case of repression against foreign journalists in relation to West Papua occurred in February 2018. The journalist Rebecca Henschke and her camera team were forced to leave West Papua for allegedly offending members of the military on her Twitter account. She posted a picture of shipped goods and commented “these are the humanitarian supplies for the extremely malnourished children in Papua – instant noodles, sweetened soft drinks and biscuits”. Military members claimed that Henschke’s pictures showed deliveries to local shops, not the humanitarian supplies.