By Ahmad Syamsudin and Tia Asmara
Indonesian authorities deported an American environmental journalist on Friday after detaining him for more than six weeks over an alleged visa violation, his lawyer and employer said.
Philip Jacobson, 31, an editor for the non-profit environmental news website Mongabay.com, was detained in the city of Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan province on Dec. 17 after attending a hearing between an NGO advocating for the rights of indigenous people and the local parliament.
He formally was arrested on Jan. 21 on charges of violating his visa terms and taken into custody, but was released three days later.
He was confined to city arrest until immigration authorities dropped the case on Thursday, said Aryo Nugroho, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Institute (LBH) in Palangkaraya.
Jacobson flew from Palangkaraya Airport in Central Kalimantan to Jakarta on Friday, where he was detained for several hours before boarding a flight to the United States, Mongabay reported.
“We are relieved that Phil has finally been granted his freedom,” Mongabay founder and chief executive officer Rhett A. Butler said in a statement.
“His prolonged detention over this matter was profoundly concerning, but we are very pleased that authorities dismissed the charges and released him,” he said.
Aryo said Jacobson should never have been arrested.
“His freedom would not have been achieved without the support of everyone concerned at home and overseas, especially advocates of press freedom,” Aryo said.
“Philip is a journalist, not a criminal,” he said. “This case has strengthened our resolve to fight for press freedom, truth and justice for all people.”
Mongabay said Jacobson entered the country on a business visa for a series of meetings. Immigration officers confiscated his passport a few hours before he was scheduled to fly out of the city, questioned him for hours and ordered him to remain in Palangkaraya pending an investigation.
His arrest drew condemnation from domestic and international press advocacy groups with some suggesting that it might have been linked to his work covering environmental issues and land disputes in the country.
Jacobson thanked his supporters.
“It’s good to be out of prison and I’m relieved the prospect of a five-year jail sentence is no longer something I have to contemplate,” Jacobson said in a statement released by Mongabay.
“Indonesia has received praise in the last few years for its efforts to combat climate change and curb deforestation, positive developments that Mongabay has covered,” he said. “Meanwhile, the press has a duty to cast a critical eye on events.”
Jacobson said he would be applying for a new journalism visa at an Indonesian embassy “at the earliest opportunity.”
Human rights activists previously urged the government to stop what they said were growing physical and legal threats against activists and environmentalists.