Indonesian president Joko Widodo lifts foreign media restrictions in Papua

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (right) handing over the official pardon to five political prisoners he granted clemency to, during a ceremony at a prison in Jayapura, Papua province, on May 9, 2015. President Widodo said on Sunday, May 10, that&nb
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (right) handing over the official pardon to five political prisoners he granted clemency to, during a ceremony at a prison in Jayapura, Papua province, on May 9, 2015. President Widodo said on Sunday, May 10, that foreign journalists no longer need special permission to travel to the politically-sensitive Papua province. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia's president said on Sunday that foreign journalists no longer need special permission to travel to the politically-sensitive Papua province, lifting decades-old restrictions imposed due to a long simmering secessionist movement.

The announcement comes a day after President Joko Widodo pardoned five political prisoners in Papua, home to a small insurgency that has clashed with the military and police over the past decades.

"Starting today, foreign journalists will be allowed and are free to come to Papua, as they are to other parts of Indonesia,"Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto quoted President Joko Widodo as saying during a trip to the remote province.

Foreign journalists previously needed government clearance to visit Papua, which is known for its abundant copper and gold mines operated by United States mining giant Freeport-McMoRan.

Last year, two French journalists were convicted of misusing their tourist visas to work as journalists in Papua and spent 11 weeks in detention before being sent back to France.

Widodo, who is visiting Papua with a delegation that included a small group of Jakarta-based foreign journalists, on Saturday pardoned five political prisoners convicted over a 2003 raid on an Indonesian military weapons arsenal, local media said. The convicts were serving sentences ranging from 19 years to life.

Human Rights Watch urged the president to release dozens of other political prisoners.

Papua was incorporated into Indonesia under a widely criticised United Nations-backed vote in 1969, after Jakarta took over the area in 1963 at the end of Dutch colonial rule.