Bangkok, June 25, 2003—Indonesian police have formally detained American free-lance journalist William Nessen after two days of questioning in the troubled province of Aceh and charged him with violating two sections of Indonesia's immigration law.
Nessen, who voluntarily turned himself over to military authorities on Tuesday, June 24, after spending several weeks with separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (known by its Indonesian acronym as GAM), can be held for at least 20 days in police custody, according to a U.S. diplomat who has been following the case closely. The detention can be extended for an additional 40 days, and Nessen is not eligible for bail. At the end of the 60-day period, police authorities would have to send the case to prosecutors for trial, according to the diplomat.
Nessen is charged with violating sections 50 and 51 of the immigration law, said the diplomat. Section 50 requires foreign residents to accurately state their intentions for living in Indonesia, and Section 51 requires foreign residents to notify military or police authorities before traveling to conflict areas.
Nessen is accredited to work in Indonesia as a representative of The San Francisco Chronicle. Aceh was not considered a conflict area until martial law was instituted at the beginning of a major military offensive against GAM rebels on May 19. Starting that day, journalists were required to register with military authorities and to obtain special passes to visit the province. Nessen entered Aceh before the offensive began and before the requirement for a special pass went into effect.
"The spirit of talks with the Indonesian authorities was that Nessen would be allowed to leave the country if he turned himself in, and we think that should be honored," said A. Lin Neumann, CPJ's Asia consultant, who was involved in discussions about Nessen with the Indonesian government.
During talks with military and government officials about Nessen, CPJ was told that the Indonesian military saw no reason for him to be arrested. U.S. embassy officials who have been assisting Nessen said they were surprised by the charges and the detention.
For more information, go to the news alert of June 24, 2003.