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Indonesia Holds 2 Foreigners

Asia: Local authorities contend U.S. nurse and British academic violated tourist visas by visiting rebel territory. The two say police abused them.

September 28, 2002|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Iowa nurse Joy Lee Sadler says that when she came to Indonesia, she wanted to help care for sick people and spend some time at the beach.

Instead, she and her traveling companion, British academic Lesley McCulloch, were thrown into jail by local authorities Sept. 10 for traveling to a part of Indonesia that is held by separatist rebels.

Sadler, 57, says the soldiers who arrested them at a checkpoint in war-torn Aceh province punched her in the stomach and jaw, and held the 43-year-old McCulloch at knifepoint and fondled her. For days, they say, they were denied access to embassy officials and lawyers. Sadler says she suffered an attack of angina because of the stress.

Authorities say the two violated conditions of their tourist visas by entering an area controlled by the rebel Free Aceh Movement, and could face five years in prison. They say the women had documents about the rebels and were researching the Aceh conflict.

McCulloch, who recently completed a year as a lecturer at the University of Tasmania in Australia, has written articles in which she said the Indonesian military is killing civilians in Aceh.

"They are charged with violating their tourist visas because they have engaged in activities that were beyond what a tourist would do," said police spokesman Taufik Sugiono.

Sugiono acknowledged that the women may have been subjected to "a bit of violence" but denied that they were sexually harassed.

Police finished their investigation Friday and will hand the case over to prosecutors next week, he said. U.S. officials in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, said that they were closely monitoring Sadler's case and that a consular official recently visited her.

Sadler's detention comes at a time when Americans appear to be under mounting pressure in Indonesia. Two American schoolteachers were shot dead in the Indonesian province of Papua on Aug. 31 when their car was ambushed near the American-owned Freeport mine. Police are investigating whether the attack was staged by Indonesian soldiers seeking more money to protect the mine.

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and the consulate in the city of Surabaya were closed for several days this month because of a threat of terrorist attacks. Americans have been told not to travel to the popular area of Yogyakarta because of similar threats.

In Aceh, where the women were detained, Islamic rebels have been fighting for 25 years to establish an independent state. Thousands of people have been killed.

In a letter Sadler wrote from jail a week ago, she said she had come to Aceh on vacation in the hope of finding a job with a local volunteer health organization.

"While going to a popular tourist island in south Aceh we were stopped at a military checkpoint and harassed, beaten, and taken into custody for reason unknown," she wrote. "We were refused calls to our embassies for help and imprisoned for eight days without contact to [the] outside world. We have been interrogated for hours, deprived of sleep and food and denied medical care for our injuries."

Sadler denied having any documents from the Free Aceh Movement but said she held written accounts of civilian life in the conflict zone. "The papers I had were only villagers' stories of their trauma being caught in between the conflict here in Aceh," she wrote.

The women were handed over to police after eight days and moved to Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, where conditions improved.

In a brief telephone interview Thursday, Sadler said police were holding them in a converted office with a bathroom. "We're being treated very well now," she said.

Sadler described herself as "depressed" and said she had been diagnosed with angina. She said she was being given nitroglycerin tablets to treat it.

Sadler said she did not expect to be released any time soon. "We're being made an example of."

Jeffrey Winters, an associate professor at Northwestern University who frequently does research in Indonesia, said it is common for academic researchers to work here on tourist visas. He said he had not bothered to get official permission to work in Indonesia since 1989.

"The charges these two individuals are being held on are arbitrary and outrageous," he wrote in a letter in their defense. "The clear intent is to intimidate everyone at home and abroad that might want to gather primary information in Indonesia or tend to those who are harmed at the hand of the police and soldiers."

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