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Indonesia Deports Greenpeace Activists, Journalists


Indonesia Deports Greenpeace Activists, Journalists

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In Indonesia, foreign activists with the environmental group Greenpeace and two foreign journalists are being deported. The activists were involved in conservation efforts and protests to publicize the environmental damage caused by deforestation. The Indonesian government says they misused their visas.

Tom Keunen, a Belgian activist with the environmental group Greenpeace, says the Indonesian police who detained him at first accused him of being a spy. They also kept changing the name of the department they represent.

"The first time I met them, they were from immigration," Keunen said. "The second time I met them, they presented themselves as secret service. The third time I met them, they presented themselves as some other police. And yesterday, finally it came out that they are actually reconnaissance intelligence from the Jakarta national police."

Keunen is one of two Greenpeace activists and two journalists being deported from Indonesia. In October the environmental group brought activists from a around the world to the island of Sumatra to publicize how clearing forests may contribute to global warming. They also built a dam to help restore an area affected by deforestation and they invited journalists to see how logging companies clear vast sections of land.

But the activists got into trouble when they demonstrated against companies they say cause significant environmental damage. Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah says they violated the terms of their visas.

"We were informed that some foreign nationals were deported because they conducted activities which are contrary to their obtained visa, which is a misuse of visa," Faizasyah explained. "They are supposedly involved in a business activity or as a tourist, but they are involved in political activities."

The two journalists, one from India and one from Italy, were picked up by police while looking at a recently cleared forest. Faizasyah says they are being deported because they failed to declare their true purpose when applying for their visas.

Nur Hidayati, the Indonesia Greenpeace country representative, says the organization was involved in demonstrations. But she says, deporting activists and journalists on these technicalities brings more attention to their cause and depicts the government of Indonesia as undemocratic.

"Legal does not always mean good," Hidayati noted. "When the law does not open up the opportunity of civilians to show freedom of expression, it is only showing more repression and it is going to be a bad image for the Indonesian government."

Because of the burning of its forests, climate experts say Indonesia is the third largest emitter of CO2, a greenhouse gas that many scientists think accelerates global warming. Faizasyah says the government recognizes the problem and is working to save its forests.

"We are all concerned with the environmental issue," Faizasyah admitted. "The government is also very active these days to insure we are limiting deforestation. We are very much in line with the interests of global international campaigns."

But he says Greenpeace and other foreign environmental activists must work within the law.