Sun, 03 Aug 2003

Nessen gets for immigration offense

Nani Farida and Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh/Lhokseumawe

American freelance journalist William Arthur Nessen was sentenced on Saturday for an immigration violation here, but is expected to enjoy his freedom the next day.

The Banda Aceh District Court handed down to Nessen, 46, a retroactive 40-day jail term. Nessen has been in detention since June 24, when he surrendered to the martial law administration in Aceh after living with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels for some time.

No court order was issued for Nessen's deportation and he is permitted to stay in Indonesia until Oct. 31.

Prosecutors had demanded a two-month sentence jail for Nessen, who writes for the Sydney Morning Herald and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Nessen's defense lawyer Amir Syamsuddin said his client would accept the verdict, so that he could seek medical treatment for his acute kidney problem.

"He may return to the U.S. to seek treatment," Amir said.

The panel of judges read the verdict, which declared the American journalist to be guilty of violating Article 51 of Law No. 9/1992 on immigration for failing to produce his passport and visa when he surrendered.

He was also found guilty of reporting without informing the martial law administration in Aceh, which had imposed restrictions on foreign journalists amid the government offensive against GAM.

Nessen entered Aceh by land on May 10 from Medan, North Sumatra, before the military operation was launched on May 19. He defied the military order to leave the GAM base where he was staying, and failed to appear even after the deadline.

Army chief of staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu suspected Nessen of spying for GAM, which has been fighting since 1976 for an independent Aceh.

In his defense, Nessen told the court he lost his passport and other documents when he fled a firefight between rebels and troops in North Aceh's Nisam district.

Prosecutors pointed out that Nessen did not report to police when he entered Aceh, did not have permission to work as a journalist from the manpower ministry and was not accredited by the foreign ministry.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement on Saturday that it welcomed the verdict in Nessen's case, because it cleared the way for his release.

"We are relieved that Nessen will now be free to leave the country," said Lin Neumann, CPJ's Asia representative as quoted by AFP.

"We believe he was imprisoned because of his activities as a journalist and we have maintained throughout this process that he should be released."

In other developments, a rebel and a soldier were killed as 13 gunfights broke out across the province between Friday and Saturday.

Spokesman for the military operation Lt. Col. Ahmad Yani Basuki said Pvt. Tarsan was killed in a skirmish in Kuta Baro, South Aceh, on Friday evening. Forty-one soldiers have been killed since the onset of the military operation.

Yani said government troops shot dead one rebel in Pasir Kuala Asahan, South Aceh, on Friday.

He also said 10 rebels had surrendered over the last two days.

Meanwhile, Aceh Police are stepping up security measures ahead of the Aug. 17 Independence Day.

"The police have anticipated any potential security disturbances, including intimidation against people not to hoist the Red-and-White (Indonesian) flag and bomb threats," Aceh Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Sayed Husainy said.

He said GAM members had circulated pamphlets asking residents not to fly the national flag, demanded levies from locals and had abducted several community figures in order to spread terror among the Acehnese.