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Indonesia 3 August 2003

Journalist William Nessen freed

American journalist William Nessen was freed on 3 August, a day after being sentenced to a month and six days in prison for breaking immigration rules. He was released because he had already been detained longer than the period of the sentence.

Prosecutor calls for jail sentence

Prosecutor Efdal Effendi called on 30 July for a two-month prison sentence for US journalist William Nessen, who was arrested on 24 June. He accused him of not presenting his passport and visa to the authorities, not having a press card issued by the foreign ministry and of not reporting to army officials when he entered Aceh. Charges that could have brought a five-year jail sentence were dropped. Nessen said he had lost his passport during the army-rebel fighting. "I write what actually happens, and what I see and regard as the truth. I cover both sides," he told the judge.

Trial of journalist William Nessen opens


Freelance US journalist William Nessen went on trial today in Banda Aceh accused of having "misused his entry visa." Prosecution witnesses, including an immigration officer, said Nessen, who has been held for nearly a month, entered Aceh province on a valid visa but had then engaged in "illegal journalistic activity." He faces a maximum of five years in prison, after reporting on the Indonesian army’s drive against the pro-independence Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebel forces. The army has prevented all Indonesian and foreign journalists from covering the fighting, except for those "embedded" with government forces. About 500 people are thought to have been killed in conflict since 19 May.

Japanese photographer expelled from Aceh province

After being held for two days in Aceh province, Japanese photographer Tadatomo Takagi was escorted by immigration officials to Medan in neighbouring North Sumatra province on 28 June. He was arrested on 26 June in Aceh while photographing refugees fleeing from a clash between soldiers and rebels. The Japanese embassy in Jakarta said he was just an amateur photographer who had not heard about the state of emergency in Aceh. Meanwhile, American freelance journalist William Nessen, arrested on 24 June for "violating immigration laws"and suspected by the authorities of spying, is still detained and is still being questioned by police in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.

Two foreign reporters detained in Aceh


Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) voiced concern about a decree issued today reinforcing restrictions on foreign journalists in the province of Aceh and about the arrests of a Japanese photographer and an American reporter in the past four days for trying to independently cover the army’s offensive against the rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

"The Indonesian army is gradually imposing a news blackout on the situation in Aceh," Reporters Without Borders said. "The unwarranted arrests of foreign journalists and the adoption of a new decree targeting the international press shows to what degree the military authorities fear independent reporting different from what we are getting from the few journalists embedded with the troops," said Ménard.

The organisation said the two journalists were just exercising their right to inform international public opinion on the situation in Aceh, and appealed for their release. It also called for the repeal of the restrictions on coverage of the fighting, introduced under martial law provisions proclaimed in Aceh on 19 May.

There were conflicting reports about the Japanese photographer arrested yesterday. The Associated Press quoted an army officer as saying Tadatomo Takagi, 25, was arrested in the north of Aceh because he was working without permission. But Agence France-Presse identified him by the surname of Takashi and said he was arrested in the south of Aceh.

American journalist William Nessen is detained by police in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, since 24 June. He has been accused of "violating immigration laws" and "abusing his journalist’s visa." Police yesterday rejected a request for his release filed by his lawyer, although he is in a weak condition. He had been reporting the army’s offensive from alongside the GAM rebels for the past month. His current arrest warrant is valid until 11 July and he faces up to five years in prison.

The martial law provisions in force since 19 May already banned journalists from working alongside rebels accused of "terrorism". But these were stepped up in yesterday’s decree and henceforth foreign journalists must remain within the province’s main cities unless accompanied by the security forces. Any journalist violating the restriction will be expelled from the province within 24 hours. Col. Ditya Sudarsono said the aim was to protect journalists, not obstruct their work.

Since 24 June, foreign journalists have had to get special permission from the foreign ministry in order to cover the fighting in Aceh. At least one journalist has been killed since martial law was introduced in the province, at least five have been arrested and at least 20 have been physically attacked or targeted by gunfire.

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