Indonesia begins releasing detained foreigners

JAKARTA, Reuters

Indonesian authorities on Monday began releasing some 30 foreigners detained by police last week at a human rights seminar in a raid that has become the latest public relations disaster for the country.

Participants at last Friday’s seminar and rights activists have condemned the police action in breaking up the conference, saying it harked back to the tough tactics frequently used during the authoritarian rule of former President Suharto.

The foreigners, among them 18 Australians, were detained for allegedly breaching immigration laws by entering Indonesia as tourists to attend the seminar.

By mid-afternoon nine had been freed after being questioned by immigration officials and a lawyer for the group said he expected all to be freed. Those released had their passports returned, which police had seized.

“They told me they don’t have a case,” Helen Jarvis, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, told Reuters, quoting immigration officials.

Earlier, the foreigners were questioned at a Jakarta police station then bused to the Justice Ministry where witnesses said officials tried to take their finger prints. The foreigners refused, and sang songs instead.

They had faced a maximum five years in jail or a 25 million rupiah (US$2,232) fine if convicted of immigration offenses.

Jarvis earlier told reporters that after armed police stormed the seminar on the outskirts of Jakarta on Friday, a group of unidentified men entered and beat up Indonesian activists.

Police stood by and did nothing, she said.