Indonesia to deport Australian graduate student travelling to Papua

Belinda Lopez, a PhD candidate for Indonesian studies at Macquarie University in Australia, was denied entry by immigration upon arriving at Bali.
Belinda Lopez, a PhD candidate for Indonesian studies at Macquarie University in Australia, was denied entry by immigration upon arriving at Bali.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/BELINDA LOPEZ

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesian authorities have denied entry and will deport an Australian graduate student who was travelling via Bali to Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua on vacation.

Belinda Lopez, a PhD candidate for Indonesian studies at Macquarie University in Australia, wrote on social media that she had been detained at Bali's Denpasar airport since midnight on Saturday and was told she was on a government blacklist.

Papua has suffered a simmering separatist conflict since it was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised United Nations-backed referendum in 1969 and remains one of its poorest regions. Access to international media remains restricted.

Lopez, who was formerly a reporter in Jakarta, said on Facebook that she was on her honeymoon and had plans to visit the Baliem tourism festival in Papua.

But upon arriving at Bali airport, she was denied entry by immigration and asked if she was a journalist and whether "she had done something wrong to Indonesia."

Lopez wrote she had previously been deported from Papua in 2016, after being suspected of being a reporter.

Immigration office spokesman Agung Sampurno denied Lopez was being deported on suspicions she was heading to Papua as a journalist.

"Belinda was barred from entering Indonesia on an immigration issue," he told Reuters, confirming, though, that she was on an immigration blacklist.

Sampurno declined to provide an explanation for the immigration issue, noting it was Indonesia's sovereign right to deny entry to travellers.

Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono said Lopez's "case shows once again that the Indonesian authorities are still restricting foreign journalists, or anyone suspected (of doing) journalism, to enter Papua."

President Joko Widodo after coming to power in 2014 pledged to ease media restrictions for Papua, but activists say journalists continue to be blocked when trying to report from there.

In February 2018, a BBC reporter was ordered to leave the province after Indonesia's military said tweets she sent on her trip had "hurt soldiers' feelings".