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Indonesia Tries Journalist For Visa Misuse

Indonesia Tries Journalist For Visa Misuse

JAKARTA (Reuters/Pacific Media Watch): A German journalist of Arab descent went on trial in Indonesia on Thursday, charged with violating his tourist visa status by working as a freelance cameraman in regions hit by religious violence.

Seyam Reda, 42, was arrested in September on suspicions that he was linked to the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden but police later said they could find no such evidence.

In court, prosecutor Suharto said Reda had misused his tourist visa by working as a journalist in areas such as Ambon city in the Moluccas islands and the region of Poso, both hit by Muslim-Christian unrest in recent years.

He said Reda entered Indonesia on August 2, 2002.

"The defendant misused his tourist visa by opening a news service. He covered conflict areas such as in Poso...and Ambon," the prosecutor told a Jakarta court.

When he was detained, police said there were indications Reda had links to Omar al-Faruq, who was arrested in Indonesia in June and handed over to the United States. In early September, al-Faruq, a Pakistani national, revealed information about planned attacks on Western targets in Southeast Asia.

But one senior police official, who declined to be identified, said on Thursday that an investigation of Reda found no links to al-Faruq or international terrorism.

"For us, there is no evidence he has any links to terror activity," said the police official.

Prosecutor Suharto made no mention of al-Faruq or terrorism.

Around the time of al-Faruq and Reda's arrests, Indonesia was being criticised by officials in some neighbouring countries as Southeast Asia's weakest link in the war on terror.

Then came the bomb attacks on Bali island on October 12 which killed nearly 200 people, mainly foreign tourists. Under intense international pressure, police have moved quickly, arresting numerous Indonesian Muslim militants.

The immigration offence carries a maximum jail term of five years or a fine of 25 million rupiah ($2,800). Reda's trial was adjourned until next Thursday.

* ($1 - 8,800 rupiah)



* Pacific Media Watch Online - check the website for archive and links:

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PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government
organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media
workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability,
censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region.
Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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