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French reporters land in Paris after release from Indonesia jail

iTélé Twitter account / Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat at their trial in Jayapura on October 20

Two French journalists who were jailed for illegal reporting in Indonesia’s eastern province of Papua landed at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport early on Tuesday.

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Thomas Dandois, 40, and Valentine Bourrat, 29, were detained in August while making a documentary for Franco-German television channel Arte about the separatist movement in eastern Papua.

The pair were tried two months later in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, on charges of breaking immigration laws since they were reporting on tourist, not journalist, visas – a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.

Indonesia is deeply sensitive about journalists covering Papua, where a low-level insurgency against the central government has simmered for decades, and rarely grants visas allowing foreigners to report in the region.

Prosecutors had sought a four-month sentence during the trial, saying the journalists had admitted their mistake and apologised.

However, a panel of judges handed them a sentence of just two months and 15 days, most of which they had already served.

Speaking soon after the verdict last week, the reporters’ lawyer Aristo Pangaribuan had welcomed their imminent release, though adding that "from a legal perspective, this is not very good because it opens the door for the criminalisation of journalistic activities."

Foreign journalists detained in the past for illegally reporting in Papua have been swiftly deported.

Indonesia's Independent Alliance of Journalists has said this is the first time that foreign journalists have been tried for immigration violations in Papua.

Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, urged Indonesia to overhaul the complex system for foreign journalists to apply for visas to report on Papua.

Currently, 18 different government agencies have to approve a foreign journalist visa for Papua, he said.

"Reporters won't use tourist visas if it is fair to apply for journalist ones," he said.
Dandois was detained at a hotel in the city of Wamena with members of separatist group the Free Papua Movement and Bourrat was detained shortly afterwards, according to authorities.

The Free Papua Movement has been at the forefront of the fight against the central government in the resource-rich region, which is poor and ethnically Melanesian

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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