Indonesia's Widodo slaps down changes to foreign press laws

Indonesia's Widodo slaps down changes to foreign press laws

 JAKARTA - New restrictions on foreign journalists in Indonesia have been dumped just a day after being announced, with President Joko Widodo directly intervening to kill off the controversial changes.

Indonesia's interior minister this week unveiled tighter rules for visiting press, including requirements that journalists obtain a second working permit and report their activities to all levels of government.

The measures were condemned by local and international press associations and free speech advocates, with the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) describing them as a "sad reminder of the authoritarian Suharto regime", referring to the general who ruled Indonesia for 32 years.

But in a rare public rebuke Widodo instructed his minister to revoke the contentious regulations, an official said Friday.

"That was a direct order from the president," interior ministry spokesman Dodi Riyatmadji told AFP.

Widodo promised in May to lift reporting restrictions for foreign journalists wanting to report from Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua.

Indonesia has long been sensitive about foreign journalists covering Papua, where poorly armed fighters have been waging a low-level insurgency against Jakarta for decades on behalf of the mostly ethnic Melanesian population. Applying for permission to go there is complex and rarely granted.

In a statement issued Thursday the JFCC said the measures announced this week contracted Widodo's order on Papua and "calls into serious question" whether the interior ministry "understands or heeds orders from the Presidential Palace".

The foreign ministry said Friday it would work with Widodo to reduce paperwork for foreign journalists and help ensure visas are issued "quicker and more efficiently".

"Changes (to regulations) cannot be made by one or two ministers, it has to go through the parliament," foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told reporters Friday.

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