An Indonesian court in the restive province of Aceh has sentenced two foreign women to several months in jail for visa violations. The American nurse and British researcher were arrested and tried after being accused of associating with Aceh's separatist rebels. The sentence underscores the sensitivity of the Indonesians about the situation in the province.
Nurse Joy Sadler was sentenced to four months in prison for violating the terms of her visa. Her traveling companion, British academic Lesley McCulloch, was given five months by the Indonesian court in Aceh. The two women have already spent three and a half months in detention, and this will be deducted from the sentences.
Joy Sadler, who is HIV positive, has been on hunger strike for more than a month in protest at the length of their detention, and her health is deteriorating rapidly.
Prosecutors alleged the two were using their tourist visas to research the Aceh conflict, accusations that both denied. Afridal Darmi, one of the defense lawyers, tells VOA that the two will not appeal - despite being unhappy with the trial. "I don't think it is fair because I still feel that both of the suspects are not guilty. But the decision, 5 months for Leslie and 4 months for Joy Lee, it is short enough." Lawyers say it is extremely rare for Westerners to be tried, let alone imprisoned, for visa violations in Indonesia.
Lesley McCulloch says she and Joy Sadler are being victimized to warn off other potential researchers and to punish her for her past writings on human rights abuses in Aceh.
The two women were traveling in the south of Aceh Province when they were picked up by the army on September 11.
The province has been racked by 26 years of separatist fighting. Some 10,000 people had been killed been killed before the government and rebels signed a peace deal on December 9.