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Two French journalists arrested in Indonesia's Papua

AFP - Indonesian security forces in West Papua on August 17, 2013

Two French journalists have been detained since August 6 by Indonesian authorities after reporting on the separatist movement in the eastern region of Papua without a proper journalist visa.

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Papua province police spokesman Sulistyo Pudjo Hartono said the two documentary filmmakers, Thomas Dandois, 40, and Valentine Bourrat, 29, could face up to five years in prison and a 500 million rupiah ($42,000) fine.

The pair were shooting a documentary for Franco-German TV channel Arte, a spokesman for the French embassy in Jakarta told AFP.

Dandois was arrested Thursday at a hotel in the city of Wamena with three members of what Hartono described as an armed criminal gang.

That is the term generally used by police in Papua to refer to the separatist group the Free Papua Movement (OPM).

He gave no details on Bourrat's arrest. They are in custody in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.

French press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for their release on August 11.

“That Dandois and Bourrat were doing a report on Papua is beyond all question,” said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “These two reporters are known for their integrity and honesty. Holding them for such a long time must be regarded as a violation of media freedom. We urge the authorities to release them without delay.”

Restrictions for independent journalists

Indonesia's central government keeps a tight grip on Papua and rarely grants foreign journalists full access to report independently in the region. Foreign NGOs are also restricted from operating there.

"We were concerned that (the French nationals') activities were part of a plan to create insecurity and instability in Papua," Hartono said.

"The pair admit to working as foreign journalists for... Arte," he added. "But we are continuing to investigate who Valentine and Thomas are and their purpose in Wamena."

Video footage, audio recordings and the journalists' phones had been seized, said Hartono.

He said the separatists at the hotel were from the highlands of Lanny Jaya district, where five OPM members were killed in a shootout with the military last week.

The shootout came after two policemen were shot dead, killings that were blamed on the separatist movement.

The OPM has for decades waged a low-level insurgency against Indonesian rule over the resource-rich but poor, ethnically Melanesian region.

Normally foreign journalists detained for illegally reporting in Papua are deported.

A French embassy spokesman said: "We are in constant contact with them, we are in touch with the Indonesian ministry of foreign affairs and the police, both in Jakarta and in Papua, to resolve this issue."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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