Why does Indonesian democracy stop at Papua?
My arrest filming a peaceful protest in Papua raises questions about what the Indonesian authorities want to hide
The crew filming the protest in Jakarta before the arrest. Photograph: Baudoin Koening
As a French journalist, I came to Indonesia to draw the portrait of the greatest emerging power of the G20 members and largest Muslim state in the world, in the context of a democracy regaining its rights alongside its motto "unity in diversity", which has guided the Indonesian government since its independence.
For a month, I travelled freely in the archipelago. I worked without any restriction on topics as sensitive as the application of sharia law, terrorism, corruption, the slaughter of communists in 1965 and the state of the economy. And so, in possession of a valid press card and a journalist visa valid throughout the country (except in the region of Posso the Celebes), I arrived in Jayapura, the capital of West Papua.
A mere hours after my landing, I touched the limits of freedom of the press. I was arrested while filming a student demonstration in favour of autonomy and democracy. After eight hours of interrogation, the bureau chief of immigration cancelled my visa and sent me back to Jakarta for immediate expulsion. So what exactly is there to hide from foreign journalists and researchers here in Papua?
The police accused me of wanting to give a bad image of the country by filming a banned demonstration. My pictures tell of demonstrators demanding greater autonomy, dialogue with Jakarta and an end to the corruption that drains the budget. The protesters were peaceful, the police presence discreet. A few hours earlier, I had interviewed Neles Tebay. The Papuan Catholic priest told me about how he worked to revive dialogue with Jakarta.
These two scenes shot before my arrest echo the opening speech by Patrialis Akbar, minister of justice and human rights, 10 days earlier in Jayapura. Responding to Indonesian journalists, he said he planned the release of Papuan separatist militants and a mediation on the European model that has brought peace to Aceh, at the other end of Indonesia.
But I wonder about the image Indonesia wants to promote when it comes to press freedom and the democratic process, when in front of television cameras and press photographers, a western TV crew that is only doing its job is arrested. When every tourist has a camera, this anachronistic desire to control information has no meaning. This is not freedom of expression that is a threat to the image and future of Indonesia, but repressive practices, intolerance and massive corruption inherited from 32 years of new order.
Today, I want to see the decision of Akbar (at the request of the ambassador of France) to suspend my immediate deportation and allow me to finish my film as a sign that soon, it will be possible for any journalist to witness dialogue between Papuans and Jakarta under Indonesia's founding principles: unity in diversity, social justice for all, democracy, religious tolerance, and a just and civilised humanity.
SOURCE: The Guardian