Pacific Media Watch

1 February 2020

INDONESIA: Andreas Harsono condemns Jakarta for punishing journalists, leaving them in limbo

Aryo Nugroho of the Legal Aid Institute (LBH) with Mongabay editor Philip Jacobson (right) at Palangkaraya Airport yesterday ... "The draconian 2011 Immigration Law needs to change," says Andreas Harsono in his commentary. Image: Mongabay

By Andreas Harsono
JAKARTA (Andreas Harsono/Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): Mongabay environmental editor Phil Jacobson was deported from Indonesia last evening, flying from Jakarta to New York after he was ordered not to leave Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, for 45 days.

It is tragic that an American environmentalist who dedicated his energies to protecting Indonesia’s rain forests and indigenous people has been treated so poorly by the Indonesian authorities.

Authorities should be thanking Jacobson for his environmental work, not punishing him for it.

READ MORE: Jacobson freed after prolonged detention in Indonesia

The draconian 2011 Immigration Law needs to change. Visa violations should be an administrative matter rather than a criminal act.

Getting a journalist visa – similar with a research visa – is very difficult in Indonesia due to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs-supervised “clearing house” which involves 18 representatives from 12 different ministries plus the National Police, the State Intelligence Agency, the military intelligence and the public prosecutors.

The clearing house has served as a strict gatekeeper, often denying applications outright or simply failing to approve them, placing journalists in a bureaucratic limbo.

Global attention
Mongabay said in a statement today:

Philip Jacobson … was deported from Indonesia today, January 31, more than six weeks after authorities in the city of Palangkaraya detained him over an alleged visa violation.

Jacobson, who turned 31 on January 26, was first detained on December 17, 2019, after attending a hearing between the Central Kalimantan Provincial Parliament and the local chapter of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), Indonesia’s largest indigenous rights advocacy group.

He had travelled to Palangkaraya after entering the country on a business visa for a series of meetings. A few hours before he was scheduled to fly out of the city, immigration authorities came to his guesthouse and confiscated his passport.

The next day they questioned him for four hours and ordered him to remain in Palangkaraya pending their investigation.

More than a month later, on January 21, Jacobson was formally arrested and taken into custody at the Palangkaraya Class II Detention Center. He was informed that he faced charges of violating the 2011 immigration law and a prison sentence of up to five years.

After his arrest, Jacobson’s case attracted global attention, with hundreds of articles published in outlets around the world, from The New York Times to the The Wall Street Journal to Indonesian newspapers.

Andreas Harsono is senior researcher in Jakarta for Human Rights Watch.

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