SURAKARTA, CENTRAL JAVA, INDONESIA, JUNE 20 - An American's angry tweet about Indonesia's immigration service resulted in his arrest and deportation. American travel blogger Derek Freal was incarcerated in an immigration detention facility awaiting deportation for posting a tweet that apparently offended immigration officials, according to Freal on his travel website The Holidaze. He is being deported today, having crowdfunded his return plane ticket.
"It was a tweet that I knew was wrong and deleted five minutes later," he wrote. "While I don’t want to repeat myself, let me just put it this way: I used the F word and kantor imigrasi (immigration office) in a sentence and threatened to never return to Indonesia. This was of course an empty threat, as anyone who knows me...knows that I love Indonesia...However in my aggravated state that day I didn’t think, I just hit ‘tweet’ — and now I am paying the price." Freal, a frequent visitor to Indonesia, said that after attempting to extend his tourist visa at an immigration office in a small city and being subjected to requirements he had not previously been required to meet, he fired off the angry tweet and quickly deleted it. He planned on going to a different immigration office in a larger city that he was sure would approve his extension, but he never got that far.
While en route back from Jakarta the following week he was tipped off by friends that three immigration officials were at his house and his girlfriend's house searching for him. "Soon after that I received a call from immigration, telling me I needed to return to their office for a hearing. Immediately my heart sank. I knew this was about my deleted tweet. At 8:30am on June 6 he arrived at the immigration office in Surakarta and was interrogated until 5:30pm. He reported that officials showed him a photograph of his Twitter profile and asked if that was him. Then they produced a screenshot of his tweet and asked if he had written it. He admitted that he had, and was incarcerated.
He is currently en route to Austin, Texas. Freal said that officials instructed him to buy a plane ticket to any country. He purchased a ticket to Singapore, leaving in two days time. On the day he was supposed to travel he was told he could not go to Singapore because he might be refused entry and sent back to Indonesia. He was instructed to buy a new ticket to somewhere else. He informed the world that he was being released today.
They have people from the news filming my release and half of kantor imigrasi is accompanying me to the airport.— ⌠ Derek4Real ⌡ (@the_HoliDaze) June 20, 2014
Without enough money to purchase another ticket, Freal raised $1200 through gofundme.com, with a campaign titled "Save Me from Indonesian Jail." On the campaign page his friend explained "Derek is stuck in the immigration center in Indonesia and is being deported. He does not have enough money to go home. The goverment said in a matter of days if he does not get the money they will send him to actual jail. The embassy said once he goes to jail it will be harder to get him."
Selective Enforcement of Regulations
Freal said that since he had previously overstayed his visa numerous times and been simply required to pay a fine, he believes immigration officials are using it as a legal basis to eject him from the country, when their real agenda is to punish him for his tweet.
If I was being deported for overstaying visa, I would have been deported a wk ago. Instead I was interrogated about a tweet and detained.— ⌠ Derek4Real ⌡ (@the_HoliDaze) June 6, 2014
He may be right; in March two Australian journalists were deported for being on the wrong visa while covering a controversial issue in Indonesia. Further, it doesn’t appear to be common practice to send three agents out to find a single overstaying tourist.
While governments have a long history denying entry to people for things they say and do (John Lennon was denied entry to the USA in 1969 for his anti-war and anti-Nixon statements/activities)--even if not illegal--social media is new ground. The Daily Mail reported in 2012 on a UK couple who were denied entry upon arrival to the USA for tweeting a perceived threat and forced to leave the following day, however Freal is the first known case of a foreign tourist who had been admitted to the country, then was later arrested and deported for something he tweeted.