Fri, 27 Jun 2003

Aceh police turn down journalist's release plea

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Police in Aceh did not give American journalist William Nessen a chance to breathe fresh air on Thursday, rejecting a request by his lawyer to release the journalist from detention.

In Jakarta, Police Chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar said Nessen might face another charge aside from visa violations.

"We're still waiting for information from witnesses," Da'i was quoted by Antara as saying, without mentioning the new charge.

The American was charged with having violated his visa, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of five years.

The military has also accused Nessen of espionage.

Nessen's lawyer Amir Syamsuddin said earlier on Thursday, shortly after he arrived in Banda Aceh, that he would submit the request for Nessen's release directly to the provincial police chief.

Amir promised that Nessen would report when necessary for further investigation. "I, and I hope the U.S. embassy, will guarantee that."

According to Amir, Nessen's detention appeared to be based solely on possible immigration violations, a relatively minor offense that should not require detention.

Besides, Nessen was not in good health. He was suffering from kidney problems and his body was very weak due to lack of water, Amir added.

But Aceh Police chief Insp. Gen. Bahrumsyah said: "Such a release is indeed allowed under the Criminal Code, but in the interests of the investigation, we reject it."

Police said on Thursday that an arrest warrant had been issued against Nessen who has been charged with violating Article 50 and Article 51 of Law No. 9/1992 on immigration which carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment or a Rp 25 million fine.

The Banda Aceh District Court sentenced American nurse Joy Lee Sadler and British scholar Lesley McCullogh to four and five months imprisonment respectively on Dec. 30, 2002 for violating their tourist visa.

Nessen surrendered himself to the Indonesian Military (TNI) on Tuesday.

Under martial law imposed on May 19, the military has the authority to detain Nessen for 20 days or until July 11.

Nessen came to Indonesia as a journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle, but police said the New Yorker failed to prove it or to produce his passport. Nessen said he lost his passport when he was trapped in crossfire between government soldiers and GAM separatists earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Vice President Hamzah Haz called on the police to be professional in investigating Nessen's case.

"Our security personnel should treat him (Nessen) professionally. They should not treat him in a way that would violate legal procedures," Hamzah said after the commemoration of international day for fighting drug trafficking.

Hamzah agreed that police should not only look into allegations that the journalist had violated immigration laws but also his activities while being embedded with GAM.

Meanwhile, Solahuddin Al Fatah, a leading Acehnese businessman, filed on Thursday a report with the police against Nessen for running away with his wife, Sadiah Marhaban.

Sadiah had demanded a divorce from Solahuddin before leaving home to marry Nessen.

"We will also investigate the report," Bahrumsyah said.