U.S. environmental reporter arrested in Indonesia for visa violation

JAKARTA (Reuters) - An American journalist who has covered stories exposing environmental destruction in Indonesia has been arrested on Borneo island for alleged visa violations, his lawyer and the environmental news outlet he works for said on Wednesday.

Philip Jacobson, 30, was first detained in Palangkaraya, the provincial capital of Central Kalimantan in Borneo, on Dec. 17 last year, according to a statement from environmental news provider Mongabay.

He had attended a hearing between the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), a rights group, and the local parliament, it said.

Jacobson had entered Indonesia using a business visa for a series of meetings and on the day he was due to leave immigration authorities confiscated his passport and he was later ordered him to remain in the city pending an investigation, the statement said.

On Jan. 21, Jacobson was formally arrested and taken into custody, Mongabay said.

Officials at Indonesia’s Immigration Directorate General did not respond to requests for comment.

Aryo Nugroho, Jacobson’s lawyer, said by text message that his client was accused of violating his visa conditions by undertaking reporting activities in Palangkaraya.

Under Indonesia’s immigration law, Jacobson could face up to five years in prison.

Rhett A. Butler, CEO and founder of Mongabay, said in a statement the company would support Jacobson and make every effort to comply with Indonesian immigration authorities.

Andreas Harsono, Indonesian researcher at Human Rights Watch, said he believed immigration were acting excessively in seeking to prosecute Jacobson.

“Journalism is clearly not a crime. This case is an administrative matter, a visa problem, not a criminal one,” Harsono said.

In his role at Mongabay, Jacobson has worked on environmental stories including some containing allegations that companies in Indonesia used falsified permits to clear out a vast area of rainforest in the easternmost region of Papua.

Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Ed Davies and Alex Richardson