French journalists held in Papua 'likely to face trial'

French journalists held in Papua 'likely to face trial'
Two arrested French journalists Thomas Dandois (C), 40, and Valentine Bourrat (L), 29, from Franco-German television channel Arte are photographed with an unidentified Indonesian immigration official in Jayapura city in Papua province on August 28, 2014.

JAYAPURA - Two French journalists arrested in Indonesia's Papua while reporting on the separatist movement are likely to go on trial, their lawyer said Tuesday, with the pair facing up to five years in jail.

Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat were detained at the start of August while making a documentary for Franco-German television channel Arte in the restive eastern region.

They are accused of breaking immigration laws - as they had tourist, not journalist, visas - and police said previously if found guilty they could be jailed for up to five years.

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 for foreigners to report independently in the region.

Foreigner reporters detained for illegal reporting in Papua have in the past been swiftly deported. However Aristo Pangaribuan, the lawyer for the French journalists, said Tuesday that a trial was looking likely.

"There is a huge possibility that both of them will go into trial," he told AFP in an email.

Gardu Ditiro Tampubolon, the immigration chief in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, said there was "strong evidence" against the pair.

"We are certain they have committed an immigration violation," said Tampubolon, whose department is investigating the journalists. The pair are being held at an immigration facility in Jayapura.

It was not clear when a trial might start but Tampubolon said that investigators would likely submit in two weeks a case file to prosecutors, who will have the final decision on whether the case proceeds to court.

After the file is submitted, it would still take some time before a trial begins.

Under the Indonesian legal system, suspects are often detained without charge for lengthy periods while authorities complete investigations. Suspects are only formally charged in court at the start of a trial.

Tampubolon said the pair had admitted to breaking visa rules.

"They told us they had no idea there was such a regulation in the first place," he said.

"But the main point is, they have admitted to their wrongdoing and have been very cooperative and respectful during the investigation process." Dandois was detained at a hotel in the city of Wamena with members of separatist group the Free Papua Movement (OPM), and Bourrat was detained shortly afterwards.

The OPM has been at the forefront of the fight against the central government in the resource-rich but poor, ethnically Melanesian region.

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