Dyaning Pangestika, Jakarta – The Alliance of Independent Journalist (AJI), the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) are denouncing the arrest of American environmental journalist Philip Jacobson, who has been detained in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, for allegedly violating visa restrictions.
Jacobson, who works for environmental science and conservation news portal Mongabay, had been detained since Jan. 21. According to a letter from immigration officials, he was arrested under Article 122 of the 2011 Immigration Law because of misuse of his residency permit. Jacobson could be subjected to a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rp 500 million (US$36,556) if convicted of the charges.
"Arresting a journalist under an administration excuse is over the top," said AJI chairman Abdul Manan as quoted by tempo.co on Wednesday.
On Dec. 16, Jacobson attended a hearing between the Central Kalimantan Regional Legislative Council and the local chapter of the AMAN.
"[On Dec. 17,] Jacobson was scheduled on a flight out of Palangkaraya, but before he could leave for the airport, immigration officers went to his guesthouse and confiscated his passport," Mongabay said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the immigration officers then asked Jacobson to remain in the city while they continued their investigation. "On Jan. 21, more than a month later, Jacobson was formally arrested and taken into custody."
Although the immigration office stated that Jacobson was arrested because of visa problems, Manan said he believes that his arrest has something to do with his journalistic activities, since Jacobson planned to write a story on an agrarian dispute between a local indigenous community and a corporation.
"The immigration authority's action could give a bad signal concerning Indonesia's image abroad for treating a journalist harshly under an administrative excuse," Manan said.
Palangkaraya Legal Aid Instutute (LBH Palangkaraya) head Aryo Nugroho Waluyo said that the immigration officers detained Jacobson in the Palangkaraya Class II Detention Center.
According to Aryo, Jacobson has been in Central Kalimantan since mid-December. At that time, Jacobson was coordinating with Mongabay journalists in Palangkaraya regarding his plan to write an article about the agrarian dispute.
Similar to AJI, AMAN also criticized the authority for arresting Jacobson.
"Philip Jacobson's detention, when the former was performing his duties as a journalist, is a serious threat against press freedom, democracy and human rights. Therefore, AMAN is voicing our solidarity with Phil Jacobson to defend press freedom, democracy and human rights," said AMAN's secretary-general Rukka Sombolinggi in a written statement on Wednesday.
Walhi said even though the stated reason for Jacobson's arrest was administrative, they also believed it had something to do with his journalism work.
"Violence and attempts to hamper journalism are violations of Article 28 of the 1945 Constitution and the Press Law, which guarantees freedom of the press," Walhi said in a statement on Wednesday.
A Human Rights Watch researcher, Andreas Harsono, urged the Palangkaraya Immigration Office to immediately release Jacobson.
"Journalism is not a crime. What happened was just an administrative matter regarding a visa," said Andreas on Wednesday.
Forcing him to remain in Palangkaraya for five weeks and later detaining him in a jail, said Andreas, were over-the-top actions.
Responding to Jacobson's arrest, the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club said they were aware of his case.
"He had come to the city after entering Indonesia on a business visa for a series of meetings, but the day he was due to leave immigration authorities seized his passport, interrogated him and ordered him to remain in the city pending an investigation," the club's executive committee wrote in a statement on Wednesday.
However, the committee also said it believes his activities should not be the cause for punitive actions. "While we of course urge all foreign journalists visiting Indonesia to ensure they follow immigration rules, if a journalist is simply attending meetings or happens to be present during a news event this should not be cause for punitive action or detention," the club added. (evi)