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Indonesia 23 September 2002

British journalist detained in Aceh province

The magistrate in charge of the McCulloch/Sadler case in Banda Aceh announced his decision on 3 October that the two women were to remain in custody. They should have been released on 1 October, but under Indonesian law the authorities have the power to detain suspects for a maximum of 40 days if further investigations prove to be necessary. The police should, at the end of their investigations, have gathered sufficient evidence to bring charges, and the case then passes into the hands of the magistrate. The latter decides whether the case is to be brought before the court and, if appropriate, fixes a date for the trial. So far there is still uncertainty about the charges to be brought against the two women: initially arrested for violating immigration laws, for which they could face a prison sentence of up to five years, it is possible, however, that they could be accused of "spying" or even of "collusion with separatist armed movements".

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the abusive detention of British journalist Lesley McCulloch. She has been in police detention at the Banda Aceh police headquarters on the Island of Sumatra since 11 September, accused of fraudulent use of a tourist visa. Banda Aceh is the capital of the province, which is prey to separatist fighting by GAM (Free Aceh Movement) rebels. "It is intolerable that no foreign observer whatsoever has been authorised to report on the situation in Aceh," stated Robert Ménard, Secretary-General of the organisation, adding that "legal artifice cannot mask the authorities’ real intentions which  are to silence any discordant voices".

The British researcher, who lives in Australia and until recently taught at the University of Tasmania, has also worked for the Australian radio and television company ABC and the newspaper Green Left Weekly. She is also well known for her frequent contributions to Asian magazines on the question of the independence of Aceh. Ms McCulloch has been visiting the province for a number of a years in order to carry out research and to write about the conflict which has lasted for 26 years. She has reported in detail on the Indonesian military’s abuses of human rights and has brought to light the economic and financial interests underlying the conflict. She was arrested on 11 September by a group of soldiers, together with an American nurse, Joy Lee Sadler, and their local interpreter, Fitra Bin Amin, as they were leaving a village in the south of the province. Ms McCulloch’s luggage was searched, and her laptop and camera closely examined, in an attempt to find evidence linking her with the rebel groups. The police claim that she had in fact visited a GAM base. Later her house in Aceh was also searched. She has been detained since then, is not allowed to make telephone calls or give interviews, and since 14 September the police have been closely monitoring her meetings with her lawyer. She is also apparently being deprived of sleep and sexually harassed. No decision about her case has yet been taken. She is accused of violating Articles 40 and 52 of the immigration law because she took advantage of her tourist visa to carry out activities in relation to the GAM. She risks a prison sentence of up to five years and/or a fine of nearly 25 million rupiahs. Ms McCulloch had to wait for six days before being granted the legal status of suspect. This is in total violation of the Indonesian penal code, which demands that a status be attributed within 24 hours following the arrest.

No foreign presence is tolerated in the province of Aceh, and the authorities are exasperated by what they consider as unjustified support by journalists, human rights groups and intellectuals for the separatist movement in Aceh. Already in March 2002, the Indonesian government refused to renew the press visa of the Jakarta correspondent of the Australian daily papers The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Lindsay Murdoch.

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