Indonesia's top security official said Friday that detained U.S. journalist Philip Jacobson should be deported immediately.
Jacobson, 30, a reporter for the California-headquartered environmental news outlet Mongabay, was detained December 17 in Borneo for an alleged visa violation.
The reporter was held without formal due process after attending a regional parliamentary hearing involving the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago, Indonesia's largest indigenous rights advocacy group.
This week, Jacobson was formally arrested and told he faced up to five years in prison for visiting Indonesia with the wrong visa, a claim his employer and U.S. officials have disputed.
Official: Reporter's work, arrest not linked
Speaking with VOA on Friday, Indonesia's Chief Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud MD reiterated claims made by Borneo officials that Jacobson's arrest was not linked to his reporting on sensitive stories about Indonesia's myriad environmental and corruption woes.
But then he said Jacobson should be released.
"He came to Indonesia on a visit visa and then turned out he did journalism activities to write the news," said Mahfud. "There was already evidence and then he was detained. Yes, that's the fact, Indonesian law is like that, but he should just be deported immediately."
Mahfud's comments preceded by hours a report published by Mangobay that said Jacobson had been "moved from prison to ‘city detention’ in Palangkaraya."
“We are grateful that authorities have made this accommodation and remain hopeful that Phil’s case can be treated as an administrative matter rather than a criminal one,” said Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler. "We thank everyone for their continued support.”
Employer surprised by response
According to Mongabay, Jacobson traveled to the country on a multiple-entry business visa. The news outlet expressed surprise that Indonesian immigration officials took such stringent actions against its reporter for the perceived administrative violation.
According to various news reports, Jacobson repeatedly had entered and left Indonesia on a non-journalist visa. The Jakarta-based Legal Aid Center for the Press told VOA the hearings Jacobson attended and his activities were "in accordance with applicable legal norms."
Summoned Friday by the Indonesia Security Ministry, U.S. Ambassador Joseph R. Donovan said: "It is important for us to deal with issues like this through the proper channels."
This story originated in VOA's Indonesian service. Some information is from AFP.