American journalist Philip Jacobson was deported from Indonesia on Friday, more than six weeks after authorities detained him for an alleged visa violation.
Jacobson departed Jakarta for New York after Indonesian officials dropped charges against him but said he was temporarily barred from returning to the country, said Andreas Harsono, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who closely followed the case.
“It’s good to be out of prison and I’m relieved the prospect of a five-year jail sentence is no longer something I have to contemplate,” Jacobson, 31, said in a statement published by Mongabay, the California-based nonprofit environmental news site where he works as an editor.
The site’s founder expressed relief that Jacobson had been freed.
“His prolonged detention over this matter was profoundly concerning, but we are very pleased that authorities dismissed the charges and released him,” the website’s founder, Rhett W. Butler, said in a statement.
Jacobson was detained Dec. 17 after attending a meeting between local lawmakers and indigenous rights activists in Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo.
Authorities said Jacobson’s involvement in journalistic activities violated the terms of the business visa he had used to enter the country. Jacobson’s editors said he was in Indonesia to attend meetings, not for reporting.
His passport was confiscated and he was barred from leaving Palangkaraya. Two weeks ago, he was sent to jail and charged with breaking an immigration law that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Following protests from press freedom groups worldwide, and the intervention of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Jacobson was released three days later. Authorities said they would seek to deport him immediately.
A Mongabay journalist since 2015, Jacobson has published several stories about corruption and environmental abuses by Indonesia’s lucrative palm oil industry.
His detention focused attention on the troubling state of press freedom in Indonesia, the most populous nation in Southeast Asia. While domestic journalists often face violence and police harassment, foreign reporters are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain journalist visas required to report in the country legally.
More than a dozen government ministries and security agencies must sign off on every journalist visa application, leading some, like Jacobson, to enter the country on business visas that allow bearers to attend meetings.
Harsono, of Human Rights Watch, said that Indonesian officials overreacted to what should have been treated as an administrative matter.
“It’s tragic that an American environmentalist who dedicated his energies to protecting Indonesia’s rain forests and indigenous people has been treated so poorly by the Indonesian authorities,” Harsono said. “Authorities should be thanking Jacobson for his environmental work, not punishing him for it.”