Indonesia journalists association questions new restrictions on foreign journalists

The Independent Journalists Association (AJI) has criticised the government for limiting the activities of foreign media in Indonesia, after the release of new procedures for foreign journalists and film crews working in the country. The Home Affairs Ministry has sent circulars outlining the changes to all regional leaders across Indonesia.

"I question on what grounds the Home Affairs Ministry has decided to […] limit the activities of foreign journalists," said AJI's advocacy division head Imam D Nugroho as quoted by on Thursday.

Imam stressed that the circular contravenes Article 28 of the Constitution and Law No 40/1999 on press, which guarantees the freedom of the press.

A director general from the Home Affairs Ministry, Soedarmo, announced the new procedures on Tuesday. He said journalists and film crew members now had to gain permits from the Foreign Affairs Ministry and from the Home Affairs Ministry.

The permits will be overseen by a task force coordinated by the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Its members will come from the State Intelligence Body (BIN), the National Police, immigration and other relevant institutions, he added.

According to Soedarmo, if foreign journalists and film crews work in remote areas of the country, they also have to obtain permits from the relevant local administration.

AJI said the circular is an expansion of a regulation that is so far applied only in Papua. "The limitation of journalists' activities is not in line with the spirit expressed by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on May 9, which purports to open wider access for foreign journalists," Iman added.

Meanwhile, AJI chairman Suwarjono said that the circular from the Home Affairs Ministry is a setback to the freedom of the press and will make for an unsettling atmosphere for foreign journalists working in the country.

"Indonesia will host celebrations for World Press Day in 2017," he said, adding that the recent move will tarnish the image of Indonesia around the world. "It is counterproductive to President Jokowi's efforts to boost investment."

Suwarjono called on the government to prepare new regulations for foreign journalists that are more democratic, modern and transparent. He also called on the Foreign Ministry to make it easier for foreign journalists to obtain visas.