JAKARTA (Reuters) – A U.S. journalist who has written stories about environmental destruction in Indonesia was deported on Friday after being arrested over alleged visa violations, his lawyer and his news outlet said.
Philip Jacobson, had been detained 45 days earlier in Palangkaraya, the provincial capital of Central Kalimantan in Borneo island, according to a statement from environmental news provider Mongabay.
His detention was criticised by rights groups who said it raised concerns over media freedom in the world’s third-biggest democracy.
Arvin Gumilang, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Immigration Directorate General, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jacobson had entered Indonesia using a business visa for a series of meetings, the statement said. On the day he was due to leave, immigration authorities confiscated his passport and later ordered him to remain in the city pending an investigation, it added.
Immigration said he should have been on a journalism visa and formally arrested him on Jan. 21. His lawyer Aryo Nugroho and Mongabay said his meetings there did not constitute journalism.
Under Indonesia’s immigration law, Jacobson could have faced up to five years in prison. But after an outcry from activists and widespread media coverage, Indonesia’s chief security minister Mahfud MD said the journalist would be deported.
On his release, Jacobson said: “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.”
Andreas Harsono, Indonesian researcher at Human Rights Watch, said visa violations should not be treated as a criminal act.
“It’s tragic that an American environmentalist who dedicated his energies to protecting Indonesia’s rain forests and indigenous people has been treated so poorly,” Harsono said.
In his role at Mongabay, Jacobson has worked on environmental stories including some containing allegations that companies in Indonesia used falsified permits to clear out a vast area of rainforest in the easternmost region of Papua.
Reporting by Ed Davies and Stanley Widianto; Editing by Andrew Heavens