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Arrested journalist returns to Switzerland

Oswald Iten is now back home in Switzerland Keystone Archive

The Swiss journalist Oswald Iten, who was arrested earlier this month in Indonesia, has returned home. He said he believed Indonesia had arrested him as a warning to other journalists not to cover separatist conflicts in the country.

Iten, who works for the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”, arrived at Zurich airport on Sunday afternoon, after being freed on Wednesday.

He had been accused of breaches of the visa rules while working in the country’s Irian Jaya province.

He was taken into custody on December 2 in Irian Jaya’s capital Jayapura, after photographing the Indonesian security forces breaking up a independence rally by members of the separatist Free Papua Movement.

The authorities said Iten was travelling as a tourist, and was therefore in breach of the rules because he was working as a journalist. But other journalists have said it is a common practice to use tourist visas, one to which the authorities normally turn a blind eye.

While being held with 28 other prisoners in a small cell he witnessed separatists being tortured, he said. One of those tortured died as a result of his injuries.

Iten was later transferred to another prison and threatened with a five-year jail sentence. He was put in the same jail as the Free Papua Movement’s leader Theys Eluay.

But after intervention by both the Swiss embassy in Jakarta, and Switzerland’s foreign minister Joseph Deiss, the authorities agreed to simply deport Iten.

Norbert Bärlocher, the Swiss diplomat who helped negotiate Iten’s release, said that discussion with Indonesia had been difficult. He said it demonstrated the problems inherent in the country’s legal system.

Iten said that following Switzerland’s intervention the attitude of the Indonesian authorities towards him changed completely. The head of the country’s immigration service had guaranteed he would be allowed to return if he wished, he said.

But Iten also said it remained impossible to report freely in Irian Jaya if one followed the official route and obtained special permission from the Indonesian authorities.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR