‘Really touching my heart’: Mongabay journalist Philip Jacobson grateful for support after arrest for alleged visa violation

Mongabay journalist Philip Jacobson. Photo: Mongabay
Mongabay journalist Philip Jacobson. Photo: Mongabay

American environmental journalist Philip Jacobson has expressed gratitude for all the support he has received following his arrest in Indonesia, as recorded in a video message published today by his employer, Mongabay.

Jacobson, 30, is an award-winning editor of the environmental science news publication who has extensively been involved in investigations of environmental crime and corruption in Indonesia.

As outlined in a press release by Mongabay, Jacobson entered Indonesia on a business visa on Dec. 14, 2019 to attend a hearing between the provincial parliament and an indigenous rights advocacy group in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.

On Dec 17, when he was scheduled to fly out of the city, he was detained by immigration officials for alleged visa violation and put under city arrest.

Jacobson was formally arrested on Jan. 21 and taken into custody on charges of violating the country’s immigration law, which could see him imprisoned for up to five years.

Fellow journalists, environmental groups and press alliances both domestically and abroad condemned Jacobson’s arrest, many of whom are suspecting that the seemingly disproportionate arrest was the result of a worrying government attempt to stifle press freedom.

“We think this is over the top because they’re using an administrative issue to justify someone’s arrest,” Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) chairman Abdul Manan told BBC Indonesia yesterday.

Mongabay posted a video on YouTube today containing a message of gratitude from the detained Jacobson.

“I really, really, really appreciate everything everyone is doing for me. It’s really touching my heart, so thank you so much,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson is not the first foreign journalist to be arrested for alleged visa violation. In 2015, two British documentary makers were found guilty of violating Indonesia’s immigration law for filming without a journalist visa, which is notoriously arduous to obtain and generally take months to process.

Also in 2015, an Australian journalist working for the Daily Mail was taken in for questioning after she was caught covering the Bali 9 executions without the correct visa. She was eventually deported.

Though unrelated to immigration laws, in 2018, BBC correspondent Rebecca Henschke was questioned by immigration and military officials for 17 hours before she was freed over tweets that “hurt the feelings” of soldiers.

Indonesia ranks a lowly 124th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index, with numerous press freedom violations cited as a matter of serious concern in the country.

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