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Mongabay editor has now been detained 6 weeks in Indonesia

  • Mongabay editor Philip Jacobson was detained in Indonesia on December 17, 2019 over an alleged issue with his business visa.
  • Jacobson was formally arrested on January 21 and was incarcerated in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan through January 24.
  • Jacobson is currently under ‘city arrest’ without his passport and is prevented from leaving Palangkaraya.
  • This is a press release from Mongabay about a developing situation and may be updated.

Mongabay editor Philip Jacobson has now been detained for 42 days in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan over an alleged violation of his business visa.

“Phil is still under ‘city arrest’ in Palangkaraya, six weeks after immigration authorities seized his passport,” said Mongabay Founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler. “We’re eager to see this issue resolved and Phil allowed to leave the city.”

Jacobson, 30, was first detained on December 17, 2019 after attending a hearing between the Central Kalimantan parliament and the local chapter of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), Indonesia’s largest indigenous rights advocacy group.

He had travelled to the city shortly after entering Indonesia on a business visa for a series of meetings. The day he was due to leave, immigration authorities seized his passport, interrogated him for four hours and ordered him to remain in the city pending their investigation.

On January 21, more than a month later, Jacobson was formally arrested and taken into custody. He was informed that he faces charges of violating the 2011 immigration law and a prison sentence of up to five years. Jacobson was held at Palangkaraya Class II detention center in a cell with six inmates for four days before being transferred back to ‘city detention’, allowing him to leave prison. He’s been prevented from leaving Palanglaraya until further notice.

Philip Jacobson.
Philip Jacobson.

The transfer from prison to city detention came after U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Joseph R. Donovan met with the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs (Kemenko Polhukam) Mohammad Mahfud MD, and a delegation from the U.S. embassy did a welfare check on Jacobson. Minister Mahfud MD was subsequently quoted in Indonesian media as saying he would order Jacobson to be deported from Indonesia “immediately.”

“We are grateful that authorities have made this accommodation,” said Butler. “We have seen the media reports and stand ready to move forward on the appropriate next steps.”

“We’re amazed by the outpouring of support we received from the public on Phil’s case,” added Butler. “Beyond the thousands of messages via social media, people ranging from top business leaders in Singapore and Europe to Indonesian-American investors and entrepreneurs to members of U.S. Congress have reached out to express their concern.”

Sampling of some of the protest art that has emerged on social media since Jacobson's arrest.
Sampling of some of the protest art that has emerged on social media since Jacobson’s arrest.

Chronology of Jacobson’s case

Summary: Philip Jacobson is an employee of Mongabay, a non-profit environmental science and conservation news organization. Jacobson is an editor for Mongabay and splits his time between Indonesia and his native U.S. This document outlines events culminating in Jacobson’s detention in the Indonesian city of Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

December 14: Jacobson, traveling on a multiple-entry business visa, arrived in Palangkaraya, the capital city of Central Kalimantan province, to meet with the local chapter of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), an indigenous rights advocacy group.

December 16: Jacobson attended a dialogue at the parliament building between the Central Kalimantan parliament and the local chapter of AMAN.

December 17: Jacobson was scheduled on a flight out of Palangkaraya, but before he could leave for the airport, immigration officers went to his guesthouse and confiscated his passport. The officials ordered Jacobson to come in the next day for questioning. It later became clear that someone had photographed Jacobson at the parliament building and reported him to immigration.

December 18: Jacobson was interrogated at the immigration office about his activities. Authorities took an official statement, known as a BAP, and ordered Jacobson to remain in Palangkaraya while they continued their investigation.

December 24: Jacobson missed his international flight out of Indonesia.

January 9: Jacobson was summoned to the immigration office, where he received a formal letter saying he was suspected of committing a visa violation and was being investigated. Authorities stated that as long as Jacobson remained cooperative, he would remain under city arrest, rather than detained in an immigration cell.

January 21: Immigration officers appeared at Jacobson’s guesthouse room and instructed him to pack his belongings and come with them. Following another round of questioning, he was taken into custody and transferred to a detention center.

January 22: Jacobson and his colleagues were honored with the Fetisov Journalism Award for their work on an investigative report, produced in collaboration with Indonesia’s Tempo magazine, Malaysiakini and The Gecko Project, about a plan to create the world’s largest oil palm plantation on the island of New Guinea. Jacobson had been expected to attend the awards ceremony in Switzerland before he was barred from leaving Palangkaraya.

January 24: Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD told reporters in Jakarta that he would order Jacobson to be deported from Indonesia “immediately.” Later that day, Jacobson’s local lawyers negotiated his transfer from prison back to “city arrest,” and he was allowed to return to a guesthouse.

January 26: Jacobson, still prevented from leaving Palangkaraya, turns 31.

Statements from Journalism NGOs

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) [January 22]:  “The longer journalist Philip Jacobson remains held in detention, the more damage Indonesia does to its reputation as a democracy with a free press,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Indonesian authorities should release Jacobson immediately and cease pursuing a criminal case against him.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) [January 22]: “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 International Press Institute (IPI) [January 22]: “Indonesia should immediately release Philip Jacobson and drop any travel restrictions against him”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “The harassment of journalists is unacceptable in Indonesia, which claims to be a democracy that respects press freedom.”

Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) [January 22]  “Employees of the news media should be free to work in Indonesia without fear of arbitrary detention,” SEJ President Meera Subramanian said. “Actions like those taken against Mr. Jacobson harm the health of Indonesian democracy and the country’s global reputation.”

Komite Keselamatan Jurnalis [January 22]: Komite Keselamatan Jurnalis mengecam penahanan dan pemidanaan Philip Jacobson, editor Mongabay, atas masalah administrasi … Komite Keselamatan Jurnalis menilai penahanan dan penetapan status tersangka Philip Jacobson sangat berlebihan dan mencoreng demokrasi di Indonesia.

Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) [January 23]: “The criminalisation of Jacobson is an excessive action . . . The immigration office had no authority to detain and treat him like a criminal offender following the allegation of violating an administrative matter.”

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) [January 23]: “The detention of Jacobson is unjust and excessive. This appears to be a retaliatory attempt to silence media reporting on sensitive topics. Journalism is not a crime and we strongly condemn attempts to criminalise journalists in Indonesia.”

PEN America [January 25]: “While we are relieved that Philip has been temporarily released, we remain concerned that he is being targeted for his work in an attempt to send a warning signal to those journalists and news outlets who undertake investigative reporting on sensitive topics in Indonesia,” said Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “Even if there is evidence of a visa-related violation, it should be handled as an administrative rather than a criminal matter and be resolved as quickly as possible, and we call on the authorities to allow both Indonesian and foreign journalists to work freely and without fear of retaliation.”

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