Indonesia urged to release US journalist

Editor held for abusing visa had published articles about corruption and environmental destruction
Indonesia urged to release US journalist

Award-winning journalist Philip Jacobson (center), editor of Mongabay.com, a US-based conservation and environmental science platform, joins his lawyers in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan. (Photo supplied)

 

Lawyers, activists and journalist groups have called on the Indonesian government to allow an American environmental journalist currently under city arrest in Central Kalimantan for alleged visa abuse to leave the country.

Philip Jacobson, 30, an award-winning editor of Mongabay.com, a non-profit environmental science news outlet, was arrested and jailed on Jan. 21 in Palangkaraya for allegedly abusing his business visa.

The site has published several articles in the past about corruption and environmental destruction involving Indonesia’s palm oil industry.

Immigration officials said Jacobson had been conducting journalistic activities not permitted by a business visa — an offense carrying a prison term of up to five years and/or a fine of 500 million rupiah (about US$36,000).

The journalist was freed three days later but had his passport confiscated and was told he could not leave the city.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said he would look at deporting Jacobson but only if the journalist was not involved in other crimes such as espionage.

Aryo Nugroho Waluyo, director of the Legal Aid Foundation in Palangkaraya and one of Jacobson’s lawyers, said the journalist traveled to Indonesia to conduct a series of meetings in Central Kalimantan.

He said the visa abuse charge was unwarranted and his activities were not a national security risk. “We hope he is deported soon,” he said.

The Independent Journalist Alliance (AJI) also called Jacobson’s arrest unjustified.

“Detaining him was an overreaction. A visa violation should be settled by deportation, not detaining him,” AJI chairman Abdul Manan told UCA News.

He questioned the motive behind Jacobson’s detention, suggesting it could be because authorities he could be working on a story about land disputes between farmers and influential businessmen. 

Amnesty International Indonesia called on the government to loosen its restrictions on foreign journalists.

“This case portrays a bad image of Indonesia. It tells the world the country criminalizes journalists for doing their job,” Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director Usman Hamid said.

He said such an arbitrary arrest was an unacceptable attack on freedom of the press in Indonesia.

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