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Indonesia 21 April 2006

Officials deny entry to US journalist who covered war in Aceh from rebels’ side

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today at the action of Indonesian immigration officials in denying US journalist William Nessen entry on 19 April and it called on foreign minister N. Hassan Wirajuda to ensure that he will be allowed to enter Indonesia freely in future.

Nessen was arrested in 2003 in the troubled province of Aceh after covering an army offensive against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) from the rebels’ side.

"The press freedom situation has improved considerably in Aceh since the peace accords were signed last year, but now this arbitrary decision casts doubt on the readiness of the highest authorities to open the province to journalists who denounced the army’s atrocities during the war," Reporters Without Borders said.

"It seems as though some people in the government have not yet turned the page on the terrible years," the organisation added.

Nessen was denied entry when he arrived at the airport of Medan, on the island of Sumatra, on a flight from Malaysia. But his Aceh-born wife, Sya’diah Syeh Marhaban, and the GAM leaders travelling with him were allowed in. Officials gave Nessen no explanation for their decision. He told Reporters Without Borders he was "very surprised" and flew back to Malaysia.

The head of the Medan immigration service told the Jakarta Post that the decision was politically-motivated. "The government still considers William Nessen as dangerous, because his reports were hostile to Indonesia," he was quoted as saying. The orders reportedly came from the ministry of political, legal and security affairs in Jakarta.

Nessen was arrested in Banda Aceh on 24 June 2003 and sentenced to one month and 10 days in prison for an alleged breach of the immigration laws. On his release on 3 August 2003, he was expelled from Indonesia and told he was banned from returning for a year.

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