Prospects grim for researcher held in Aceh

October 4, 2002

Australian academics have condemned the detention of British researcher Lesley McCulloch and two friends in the Indonesian province of Aceh for the past three weeks.

Until June, Dr McCulloch lectured in Asian studies at the University of Tasmania. Last month she went to Aceh on a tourist visa with American Joy Lee Sadler and an Indonesian student interpreter.

They were arrested on September 11 and charged with violating their visa conditions by contacting rebels of the Free Aceh Movement - an offence that carries a maximum 25-year jail sentence.

Damien Kingsbury, a Deakin University colleague of Dr McCulloch, said lawyers acting for the two women had confirmed that they had been beaten and had been held incommunicado.

The protracted police interrogation has led supporters to believe that the women are being set up for charges of espionage. Efforts by British and US consular officials to negotiate their release appear to be doomed to failure.

An Indonesian embassy official in Canberra said the women had not been beaten. The official said Dr McCulloch had a "hidden agenda" for being in the province.

A regular visitor to Aceh, Dr McCulloch has been researching and writing on human rights abuses and military excesses in the province.

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