Global media decry Indonesia’s arrest of environmental journalist

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A Mongabay video message to supporters of the US journalist Philip Jacobson arrested in Indonesia.

By Michael Andrew in Jakarta

International journalists and agencies have condemned the arrest of American environmental journalist Philip Jacobson, who has been detained in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, for allegedly misusing his residency permit.

The reporter and editor of Mongabay, a United States-based environmental news website, was detained on Tuesday after being placed under city-arrest for more than a month while immigration officials investigated his alleged visa violations.

Arrested under Article 122 of the 2011 Immigration Law, Jacobson, 30, could be subjected to a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to Rp 500 million (US$36,556) if convicted of the charges.

READ MORE: Indonesia arrests Mongabay editor

Paris-based international media freedom agency Reporters without Borders (RSF) has issued a statement denouncing the arrest as an act of intimidation.


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“The Central Kalimantan immigration officials have massively overstepped their powers. We call on the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, which oversees the Directorate General of Immigration, to ensure that this journalist is immediately released in accordance with the rule of law,” the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, Daniel Bastard, said in a press release on Wednesday.

RSF said it had contacted Jacobson in Palangkaraya in early January before his arrest. Jacobson told the agency immigration officials were “carrying out an investigation” into his case and that he had done nothing more than attend a public meeting.

The director of the New Zealand-based Pacific Media Centre, Professor David Robie, called the punitive measures against Jacobson unjustifiable and unacceptable.

‘Untold damage’
“This slow detention then arrest of one of the world’s leading environmental journalists will do untold damage to Indonesia’s reputation on media issues and democracy,” he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

“The issue of a business visa is merely a technicality and can be solved bureaucratically. The reason why some journalists have other types of visas is because of the secretive and red-tape-mired processes applying to foreign journalists visiting the country.”

Dr Robie, covenor of the PMC’s Pacific Media Watch freedom project, said the type of journalism carried out by Jacobson and Mongabay were vital for confronting “the existential crisis of our time”.

“By arresting journalists, authorities clearly are wanting to bury their heads in the ground and refuse to face the facts and truth. Journalists like Jacobson, who has a highly respected track record as an environmental journalist, should be lauded not hounded.”

Award-winning Mongabay editor Philip Jacobson … his arrest comes shortly after Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting rising violence against activists and environmentalists in Indonesia. Image: Mongabay

Other journalists and environmental activists have taken to social media to voice their support of Jacobson with the hashtag #freephilipjacobson circulating on Twitter.

In a tweet, Sydney-based Indonesian sustainable forests executive Aida Greenbury called Jacobson an honest, passionate and dedicated journalist.

“He has been arrested. Indonesia: we are better than this. Revealing the truth is not a crime,” she tweeted.

Important work
The Australian’s
Southeast Asia correspondent Amanda Hodge tweeted that “Jacobson had done some of the most important work in Indonesia on [the] intersection of corruption [and the] environment.”

“The long-form pieces he’s written/ helped produce w @gekkoprojekt are essential reading. His arrest is deeply disturbing #freephilipjacobson.”

The Indonesian Journalists’ Safety Committee has also weighed in on the issue, calling the arrest of Jacobson an excessive measure that tarnished Indonesia’s democracy.

“The excessive actions against Jacobson call into question the government’s motives and should not reflect authorities’ allergy to criticism and oversensitivity toward his investigations on the environment for Mongabay.”

It called for Jacobson’s immediate release and for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to guarantee the protection of journalists working in Indonesia and “of the transparency of information and access of foreign journalists to cover in Indonesia on the basis of press freedom, freedom of information and human rights.”

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) 2019 democracy index, Indonesia’s democracy has not climbed from its position of 64th of 167 countries.

Press freedom is also languishing with Indonesia ranked 124th of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, above Uganda and below Malaysia.

This article is republished from The Jakarta Post. The author, Michael Andrew, a former Pacific Media Watch contributing editor, is an intern with the Post under the ACICIS programme.

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