Stop Arresting Foreign Journalist

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - THE arrest of American journalist Philip Myrer Jacobson is further evidence of the Indonesian government’s paranoia and dislike of criticism. Although the official reason for the detention was a visa matter, it is difficult not to link it to Jacobson’s activities in Indonesia.

    When he was detained in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, the journalist from the environmental portal Mongabay was preparing an article on takeovers by corporations of land owned by traditional communities. Previously, he had frequently written about the degradation of forests and land conflicts in Papua, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi. Jacobson, who is accused of misusing his visa, was held in a cell in the Palangka Raya class IIA Detention Center.

    This is a ridiculous overreaction because he is not a dangerous criminal. Beforehand, he had been banned from leaving the city for more than a month, since December 17, after attending an audience of the Indonesian Alliance of Indigenous Communities (AMAN) with the Central Kalimantan Provincial Legislative Assembly.

    There were calls from a number of press organizations for Jacobson to be released. For example, the Alliance of Independent Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists have asked the government to stop the legal proceedings against the journalist. The arbitrary move by immigration officials only damages Indonesia’s reputation as a democratic nation.

    The government eventually ordered Jacobson’s release, but the legal process has not been halted. It should be stopped completely. This is important to restore Indonesia’s reputation as a democracy which has been damaged by the arbitrary actions of immigration officials. Freedom of the press in our nation has clearly suffered a setback. In the 2019 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters without Borders, Indonesia was ranked 124 of 180 countries. Our nation is ranked lower than Malaysia, Chad and Afghanistan, and is far behind Mongolia and Suriname.

    The arrest of Jacobson adds to the long list of foreign journalists mistreated by the Joko Widodo administration. In 2018, three BBC Indonesia journalists were kicked out when they were about to report on the extraordinary outbreak of edema and measles in Agats, Papua. A year beforehand, freelance Al Jazeera reporter Jack Hewson, who planned to cover the Freeport issue in Timika, Papua, was barred from entering Indonesia.

    A number of foreign journalists have even been prosecuted for visa offenses. In 2014, two French journalists, Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, were jailed for two months by the Jakarta district court. A year later, British citizens Neil Richard George Bonner and Rebecca Bernadette Prosser were jailed for two months 15 days by the Batam district court.

    The government should open the door wide to foreign journalists so they do not need to report in secret by misusing their visas. Foreign media reports help the government to monitor the activities of corporations and the performance of regional governments. There is no need for the government to be allergic to partial reports about the environment, human rights abuses or poverty. All these could be used as important inputs to change things for the better.

    A government that closes itself off to foreign media coverage is at odds with the efforts of President Jokowi to attract foreign investors. How will investors want to come here if they do not know about the conditions in our country? A stance that makes enemies of foreign journalists will make it more difficult for the government to promote tourism.

    President Jokowi should make use of foreign journalists to bring about improvements in our nation across the board. Closing ourselves off for narrow nationalism reasons will only hamper progress and damage democracy. 

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine