Responding to the expulsion of three BBC media workers covering the health crisis in Asmat, Papua, on Saturday, Amnesty International Indonesia’s Executive Director Usman Hamid said:
“The expulsion of these media workers is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression. This decision by the Indonesian authorities shows that Papua is still not open for foreign journalists despite promises by President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo to this effect in 2015.
“It is outrageous that the BBC staff members are asked to leave Papua simply for a tweet in which they were expressing their opinion on how the authorities have handled the health crisis in Asmat, which the military considered ‘insulting’.”
The immigration office in the town of Timika in Papua also reportedly seized a passport belonging to the BBC journalist, Rebecca Henschke, an Australian national. The other two contributors, Dwiki and Affan, are Indonesian.
“International coverage on a measles and malnutrition outbreak in Asmat, which so far has killed at least 71 children, is crucially important to inform the world about what is going on in the region. It also serves as a much-needed check and balance on the government efforts to handle the outbreak. Authorities should be much less thin-skinned about criticism and reverse this decision to let journalists do their legitimate work without fear of retribution,” Usman Hamid said.
According to information from the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), BBC Indonesia editor Rebecca Henschke and contributors Dwiki and Affan were forced to leave Papua and go back to Jakarta after a tweet by Rebecca Henschke mentioned the provision of aid for the measles and malnutrition outbreak in Asmat.
The tweet, which Rebecca Henschke posted on 1 February, said that food supplies given by the government only consisted of instant noodles, sweet soft drinks and biscuits. The Cendrawasih military office in Papua confirmed to media that the tweet was the main reason behind the expulsion of the three BBC staff. The Military said that Rebecca Henschke posted “false” information that “hurts the feeling of Asmat people and the Military which is carrying out a mission in the region.”
After being questioned by local police in Agats, Asmat, on Friday, Dwiki was flown to Jakarta, while Affan and Rebecca were questioned by the Mimika immigration office until Saturday. After the questioning, Rebecca and Affan could not continue their reporting in Asmat and they were escorted by security officers to Timika airport, where they boarded a flight to Jakarta on Saturday morning.
In May 2015, President Widodo lifted restrictions on foreign journalists applying for permission to visit Papua, although this has yet to be fully implemented. AJI has recorded that at least eight foreign journalists have been deported since 2017 when reporting in Papua due to a lack of appropriate visas.