Thu, 31 Jul 2003

American journalist faces jail but says not guilty

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh, Aceh

Facing two months imprisonment for immigration offenses, an American freelance journalist asserted that he had not committed any acts or activities that violated Indonesia's immigration law.

Chief prosecutor Efdal Efendy requested the panel of judges to sentence the defendant to two months imprisonment as he claimed it had been convincingly and legally proven that the defendant had violated Article 51 of Law No. 9/1992 on immigration.

"As a foreign citizen, Nessen failed to report his change of address in Indonesia to the local immigration office. He also did not have permission from the Indonesian government to work in the country," he said.

He said Nessen was guilty of failing to produce his passport and visa when questioned by the authorities. He also did not report to the police when he entered Aceh, did not have a work permit from the manpower ministry, and did not have a press card from the Indonesian foreign ministry or the information ministry, Effendi said.

The prosecutor also read the testimony of four government officials from the foreign ministry, manpower and transmigration ministry, justice and human rights ministry and the office of the information minister who could not attend the court session.

In his written testimony, Heri Sudarmanto, chief of the service section for foreign workers at the manpower and transmigration ministry, confirmed that the defendant had not requested a work permit from the Indonesian government.

Nessen was arrested on June 24 when he turned himself in to the Army after traveling with rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) for three weeks.

The military said they suspected him of spying for the rebels, who have been fighting for an independent homeland in the oil- and gas-rich province.

Nessen and his lawyer Amir Syamsudin made their own defense in the court session directly after the prosecutors read out their charges, asked the court to dismiss the charges as baseless.

"Nessen has not been proven guilty of committing the offenses as charged by the prosecutors and I request the honorable judges to acquit him of the charges," said Amir.

Amir argued that his client was not unwilling to produce his identity card and other documents to the security authorities but his circumstances made it impossible to do so.

He also said his client did not misuse his visa "because his activities were journalistic in nature".

Nessen said he still had a valid visa which he got from the immigration office in 1998, to temporarily stay in Indonesia.

Since first working as a journalist in Aceh in 2001, Nessen said he had written about the province six times after interviewing GAM, the police, the armed forces and ordinary people.

Asked by one of the three judges whether he had ever besmirched the Indonesian government, Nessen, said: "Oh no, no. I write what actually happens, and what I see and regard as the truth... I cover both sides."

Nessen said he entered Aceh before martial law was imposed on May 19 and did not know he had to report to the security authorities.

He said immigration officials had never told him he needed a press card from the foreign ministry.

The freelance reporter said he had planned to spend two weeks with the military after his initial two weeks covering GAM.

"But when I wanted to leave there was a firefight so I had to flee with the GAM members because I was afraid of becoming a victim, and a target," Nessen testified in Indonesian.

The trial was adjourned until Aug. 2, to hear the court's verdict.

Meanwhile, residents of Alue Krup village in Peusangan district, Bireuen regency, found six dead bodies in paddy fields early on Wednesday.

The Lhokseumawe-based military operation command claimed it had not received any information about such an incident, while local military officers declined to reveal whether the victims were related to the ongoing operation.

The six people sustained gunshot wounds and carried no identification, but chief of Leubu village, Makmur district, Muzakir Yusuf, later identified them as residents of the village's Lapihan Masjid hamlet who had gone missing two months ago.

"They could be GAM members because they left home right after the imposition of martial law," he told reporters after identifying the bodies at the Dr. Fauziah hospital in Bireuen town.

Separately on Tuesday evening, five armed men entered the house of Mustafa, 37, a resident of Reusip Ara village, Peusangan district, and shot three members of the family. Mustafa died instantly from a gunshot wound to his neck, while his wife Zubaedah is now in critical condition at Dr. Fauziah hospital. She sustained several gunshot wounds, including to her head and chest, while her eyes and lips were severely swollen due to being beaten.

Their youngest child, three-and-half-year-old Muhammad Fajri, sustained two bullet wounds to his chest. As of Wednesday, he had undergone surgery and was in the recovery room.

According to a relative, Susanti, Zubaedah cooks for troops patrolling in the area.