Journalist with Aspen ties gains freedom in Indonesia
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A freelance journalist who had been accused of spying by the Indonesian government was freed from jail Sunday and is looking forward to coming back to the United States, said his Aspen-based parents on Monday.
William Nessen, 46, was freed at 12:01 a.m. in the Banda Aceh province of Indonesia. According to his mother, Hermine Nessen, after going on trial for visa violations William was found guilty of two minor immigration violations: failing to report his whereabouts to authorities and having an out-of-date home address on his visa.
“We talked to him soon after he was released – he was feeling very happy and wants to get back here to the United States,” Hermine Nessen said.
Nessen was arrested June 24 after traveling through a war-torn province in Indonesia with a rebel army for three weeks. The military initially said it suspected him of spying for the rebels.
“We’re relieved,” Hermine Nessen said of herself and her husband, Maurice. “Everyone in the whole town has been so responsive and supportive – people I hardly know called, wrote and stopped me on the street. It meant so much to me – it was a big help.”
Nessen and her husband have lived in Aspen’s West End since 1989. Their son lives in New York City and has reported on the war in Indonesia for the San Francisco Chronicle.
He traveled to the country soon after the government launched a military offensive on May 19 aimed at crushing the rebellion. Rebel fighters have been active since 1976, fighting for an independent homeland in the resource-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra Island.
In Aspen, Hermine and Maurice Nessen had tried to draw attention to their son’s imprisonment by contacting the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and the office of Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar. Hilary Clinton also wrote a letter to the president of Indonesia on their behalf, Hermine said.
She also credits local photojournalist and family friend Sallie Shatz for bringing both local and national attention to their son’s arrest, including pushing the Society of Professional Journalists into taking a stand against William’s arrest.
The Bangkok office of the Committee to Protect Journalists sent out a statement on Nessen’s release.
“We believed [Nessen] was imprisoned because of his activities as a journalist, and we have maintained throughout this process that he should be released,” said A. Lin Neumann, the committee’s Asia representative.
“In the end he was only found guilty of a relatively minor immigration violation. There was never any evidence that Nessen was doing anything other than what he said he was doing: being a reporter.”
Hermine said her son had been hospitalized for the last three days of his sentence for kidney stones. He was in Singapore last night after flying out of Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta, she said. He wanted to wait and see how he felt before making the trip back to the United States, she said.
In a report from The Associated Press, Nessen said, “I will have to think about returning to Aceh. I want to seek treatment in New York with my father and mother first.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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