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Police arrest Russian tourist taking photos in Enarotali

Human Rights Monitor - April 9, 2024

A Russian tourist, Mr Shmatov Ivan Aleksandrovich, was arbitrarily arrested by Indonesian security forces in the town of Enarotali, Paniai Timur District, Papua Tangah Province, on 11 March 2024.

The arrest occurred while Ivan was photographing community activities at a local market. Local informants confirmed that Mr. Aleksandrovich visited the town as a tourist to document the cultural activities of the Mee tribe. Indonesian soldiers conducted the arrest because they suspected him of being a foreign journalist. Mr Aleksandrovich was detained and questioned for several hours before being released.

On 11 March 2024, at approximately 12:00 pm, Indonesian security forces apprehended Mr Aleksandrovich at the traditional market in Enarotali. The arrest followed reports of Ivan taking photographs at the market, prompting authorities to detain him for questioning. Thereupon, Mr Aleksandrovich was taken to the Paniai Police Station, where members of the police Intelkam Unit interviewed him.

During the interrogation, he disclosed that he had traveled from Nabire to Paniai to capture images of the indigenous people's way of life. Despite having a valid passport and visa, police officers claimed Mr Aleksandrovich did not possess a travel document from the Directorate of Intelkam of the Papua Regional Police ('Surat Jalan'), permitting him to visit the area.

Lieutenant Dwi S, Legal Officer of Task Force Yonif 527/BY, responded to Mr Aleksandrovich's arrest, stating, "Our members never secured the tourist. The tourist was secured and taken by the police to the nearest police station." He refuted claims that Mr Aleksandrovich was detained and interrogated by military personnel, emphasizing that the police were responsible for handling the situation.

The arrest raises significant concerns regarding freedom of movement and ongoing reports of arbitrary detention in West Papua. The case highlights the restrictions individuals, particularly foreigners, face when visiting the region. The incident underscores broader issues related to the ongoing armed conflict and the human rights crisis in West Papua, which remains isolated from access by foreign journalists.


The Indonesian government restricts access to West Papua for foreign journalists and international observers. Indonesian government agencies hinder foreign journalists from conducting media coverage in West Papua. Authorities use various repressive strategies against foreign journalists, including intimidation, bureaucratic obstruction, and physical attacks, to prevent journalists from covering politically sensitive events. This picture contradicts President Joko Widodo's statement on 10 May 2015 that West Papua would be open to foreign journalists. President Joko Widodo reiterated the opening of West Papua during his official speech on Indonesia's Independence Day on 14 August 2015.

Jokowi's ambitious statements were never put into practice. The Indonesian government requires foreign journalists to fulfill a large number of requirements. The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs supervises the so-called clearing house process. The requirements included detailed information on persons to be interviewed, time schedules, and locations. Moreover, government agencies clarified that reporting on human rights-related or political issues in West Papua was prohibited.

President Joko Widodo's statement was never followed up with a presidential instruction, which may be a major reason for the ongoing confusion regarding its implementation. Contradictory information given by multiple state representatives and security force commanders indicates a lack of coherent and unified government policy to repeal restrictions on foreign media access to West Papua.

However, on the 17th June 2015, the general director of information in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Esti Andayani, said during an interview with Radio New Zealand that the government had abolished the clearing house system without providing any clear information on the new procedures which had replaced the former control mechanism. She further stated that foreign journalists would still be screened with regard to the fulfillment of visa requirements. The Foreign Ministry emphasized that all foreigners, including foreign correspondents, would still need a permission letter ('Surat Jalan') from the police intelligence unit if they intend to travel to West Papua.

Possible changes in bureaucratic procedure have little impact on the situation in the field, as the arrest of Mr Aleksandrovich illustrates. If foreign journalists receive permission to cover West Papua, they still face obstructions by local government agencies and strict surveillance by the local police and intelligence. Persons interviewed by foreign journalists are at risk of being interrogated, arrested, and prosecuted, particularly if journalistic coverage includes political and human rights-related issues.

Source: https://humanrightsmonitor.org/case/police-arrest-russian-tourist-taking-photos-in-enarotali