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Police officers are seen in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 7, 2019. Authorities recently arrested and detained U.S. environmental journalist Philip Jacobson. (AFP/Adek Berry)

American environmental journalist Philip Jacobson detained in Indonesia

January 22, 2020 11:20 AM ET

Bangkok, January 22, 2020 -- Indonesian authorities should immediately release journalist Philip Jacobson and drop any criminal charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On December 17, 2019, immigration authorities briefly detained Jacobson, a U.S. citizen and an editor at the multilingual environmental news outlet Mongabay, in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, on suspicion of violating the terms of his visa, according to a statement released by his publication. Authorities released him after a four-hour interrogation on the condition that he remain in Palangkaraya while his visa status was under investigation, according to the statement and news reports.

Jacobson was detained after attending a meeting between the Central Kalimantan parliament and an indigenous rights group, according to the statement.

Yesterday, immigration officials raided Jacobson’s guesthouse, arrested him, and transferred him to a detention center in Palangkaraya, the Mongabay statement said. If charged and convicted of violating Indonesia’s 2011 immigration law, a criminal offense, he could face up to five years in prison, according to news reports.

Authorities allege that Jacobson had been working as a journalist while on a business visa, according to news reports. According to Jacobson’s author page on Mongabay, he also worked as a strategist and translator for the outlet.

Willie Shubert, global program director at Mongabay, told CPJ via email that Jacobson’s lawyer and colleagues are able to visit him in jail.

“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.”

CPJ emailed Indonesia’s Immigration Department for comment but did not immediately receive a reply. Arvin Gumilang, the department’s spokesperson, said he had not received information about Jacobson’s arrest, according to a report by The Jakarta Post.

Mongabay has published several hard-hitting reports on environmental degradation and alleged corruption in Indonesia. CPJ could not immediately determine whether Jacobson’s arrest and detention were connected to his or the publication’s critical reporting.

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