Indonesia deports American journalist over visa regulations

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian authorities deported an American journalist who was detained for more than six weeks after meeting with indigenous rights activists on Borneo island, his lawyer said Saturday.

Philip Myrer Jacobson of California was detained on Jan. 21 in Palangkaraya city and faced up to five years in jail and a 500 million rupiah (US$36,500) fine on charges of violating immigration laws for failing to secure a journalist visa.

Jacobson, 31, is an editor for Mongabay, an environmental science news website that features information on tropical rain forests.

His lawyer, Aryo Nugroho, said Jacobson was sent home Friday afternoon through Jakarta’s international airport after the immigration office dropped the charges that could lead to criminal prosecution.

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“It’s good to be out of prison,” Jacobson said in a statement, “The press has a duty to cast a critical eye on events.”

Jacobson vowed to return to Indonesia by applying for a correct visa.

He traveled to the Central Kalimantan provincial capital of Palangkaraya on Dec. 14 to meet with activists from the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago, a rights advocacy group, and two days later attended a meeting between local lawmakers and activists from the group.

He was scheduled to fly out of the city on Dec. 17 when immigration officers went to his guesthouse and confiscated his passport. After being questioned the next day, authorities restricted him to the city for more than a month. He was taken into custody and transferred to jail on Jan. 21.

Jacobson’s detention drew an outcry from rights activists and media groups amid fears it could signal a more dangerous landscape for other journalists in Indonesia.

“Visa violations should be an administrative matter rather than a criminal act,” said Andreas Harsono, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD had said the government should instead deport Jacobson. Three days later, Jacobson was freed.

“Phil’s detention has strengthened Mongabay’s resolve to deliver news and inspiration from nature’s front line,” Mongabay founder and chief executive Rhett A. Buttler said.

The case was the latest in a series of arrests and deportations of foreign journalists despite the government’s promise to ease visa restrictions for international media since President Joko Widodo took office in 2014. Foreign journalists still need to apply for special visas that can take weeks and can be denied.

In 2017, two French journalists were deported for visa violations while shooting a documentary in Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua, the scene of a separatist rebellion. Three months later, six Japanese making a documentary about indigenous people were also deported from Papua for lacking journalist visas.

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