BBC journalist told to leave Papua over tweets about health crisis

A member of the Indonesian military attends to a child at a local hospital in Agats, Asmat, Papua, on Jan 26, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A foreign journalist covering the health crisis in Asmat, Papua, was forced to leave the region after the Indonesian Military (TNI) objected to a series of tweets she had posted about the health emergency in the remote regency.

Rebecca Henschke, an editor at BBC Indonesia, the local arm of London-Based BBC News, was reportedly forced on Friday (Feb 2) to end her reporting about the recent measles outbreak and widespread malnutrition in Asmat.

The move came following a police report filed by TNI personnel who were part of the health mission and allegedly felt offended by Henschke's comments on Twitter.

Cendrawasih Military District Command spokesman Lt. Col. M. Aidi claimed that several posts made by Henschke on her Twitter account were misleading and did not reflect the current situation in Asmat.

Henschke posted on Wednesday a picture showing boxes of food and drinks on a dock.

It was captioned: "This is the aid coming in for severely malnourished children in Papua - instant noodles, super sweet soft drinks and biscuits."

Responding to the post, Aidi claimed in a statement released on Friday that "what she wrote did not reflect the truth. In the photo, (the food and drinks) are not humanitarian aid, but products sold by merchants and were accidentally placed (on the dock)."

In another tweet, he added, Henschke said that malnourished children had only been given chocolate biscuits. The tweet he was referring to was also posted on Wednesday and read: "Children in hospital eating chocolate biscuits and that's it."

Henschke has since revised the caption to her earlier photo, posting on Thursday: "Adding important NOTE: Other sources say this is NOT aid but normal supplies. Huge relief effort underway here."

Still, after receiving the report from the TNI, Asmat Resort Police summoned Henschke for an interview and she was subsequently returned to Timika for questioning by immigration officials.

Papua Police spokesman Sr. Comr. AM Kamal said his officers told Henschke that her posts had created a "negative impression" of TNI personnel working to contain the measles outbreak.

Tembagapura Immigration head Jesaya Samuel Henock confirmed that his office had questioned Rebecca over claims she had caused a disturbance and violated prevailing regulations.

The recent measles outbreak and widespread malnutrition in Asmat, which has killed at least 71 children, has grabbed national and global media headlines.

Despite President Joko Widodo's decision on May 2015 to open foreign media access to Papua, authorities have reportedly continued to restrict foreign journalists from working in Indonesia's easternmost province on spurious "security" grounds, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) chairman Abdul Manan slammed the military's actions, arguing that its personnel should have provided corrections instead of obstructing journalist from carrying out their jobs.

"The government should provide wide access for both national and foreign media to produce more independent reports about the situation in Asmat," he said.

Responding to the incident, a BBC spokesman in London acknowledged the presence of a BBC correspondent and producer in Papua, adding that it was "currently working to establish their current situation with regard to the Indonesian authorities.

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