American journalist Philip Jacobson was released from prison in Indonesia and would be deported “as soon as possible” for a visa violation, authorities said.
Jacobson, who turned 31 on Sunday, was jailed last week in the city of Palangkaraya and is facing up to five years in prison after he attended a public meeting between local lawmakers and indigenous rights activists in December.
After spending three nights in a six-man cell, Jacobson, an editor at the nonprofit environmental news website Mongabay, was released Friday under orders not to leave Palangkaraya, the capital of Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province.
“We are grateful that authorities have made this accommodation and remain hopeful that Phil’s case can be treated as an administrative matter rather than a criminal one,” Rhett Butler, Mongabay’s founder, said in a statement.
In an email Saturday, Butler added that Indonesian authorities had given no guarantees that Jacobson would be deported or the charges against him dismissed.
“We’re hopeful this will be the case, but until then, we’re continuing with our outreach efforts to get him out of this situation,” he said.
Indonesian officials said Jacobson was not permitted to conduct journalistic activities because he had entered the country on a business visa. Jacobson’s colleagues said that he was only attending meetings, not reporting.
After meeting with U.S. Ambassador Joseph R. Donovan, Mohammad Mahfud M.D., Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said that Jacobson would be deported as long as investigators were able to determine that he was not involved in other crimes.
But Mahfud said that by meeting with civil society groups and local lawmakers, Jacobson violated the terms of his visa.
“It’s outside of his visa purpose to write news,” Mahfud said, according to the Jakarta Post.
Jacobson, who was born in the Los Angeles area and resides in New York, has frequently reported on Indonesia, including for Mongabay, which has published several hard-hitting stories about corruption and environmental abuses in the country’s lucrative palm oil sector.
Last week, while he was in jail, Jacobson and several colleagues were awarded second prize in the environmental journalism category of Switzerland’s Fetisov Journalism Awards, for an investigation of deforestation and land rights in Indonesia.