Indonesia: US environmental reporter detained arbitrarily in Borneo

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of US environmental reporter Phil Jacobson, who was formally arrested yesterday on an unspecified and unsubstantiated visa violation charge in Palangka Raya, the capital of Central Kalimantan province in the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo.



RSF is relieved to learn that Phil Jacobson was released on 31 January and welcomes the fact that the Indonesian authorities have dropped all the arbitrary charges against this journalist. At the same time, RSF regrets that he is being expelled from Indonesia despite having a valid visa. The issuing of visas to foreign journalists should be transparent and should not depend on the whims of the Directorate General of Immigration.


A reporter and editor with the US-based environmental news website Mongabay, Phillip Jacobson is facing a possible five-year prison sentence for an alleged violation of Indonesia’s 2011 immigration law – a violation that has not been explained by the local police.


Shortly after arriving in Indonesia on a multi-entry business visa, Jacobson travelled to Palangka Raya on 14 December for a series of meetings, including with members of the local branch of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, AMAN). Two days later, he attended a meeting between AMAN representatives and local parliamentarians at the Central Kalimantan parliament.


This was sufficient for immigration officials to confiscate his passport on 17 December and summon him for questioning the next day, when he was told that he was banned from leaving the city.


When RSF contacted him in Palangka Raya in early January, before his official arrest, Jacobson said the immigration officials were “carrying out an investigation” into case. He also said he had done nothing more than attend a public meeting.


“Phillip Jacobson’s totally disproportionate arrest clearly amounts to intimidation,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “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 zeal that immigration officials have displayed in this case has fuelled suspicion that the aim is to silence Jacobson, who has often visited Indonesia in the past decade and has covered several environmental scandals including cases of illegal deforestation on the island of Borneo.


Indonesia is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 05.02.2020