- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Feb. 9 (UPI) — A Scottish-born academic was freed from prison Sunday after serving a five-month sentence for violating her tourist visa by contacting separatist rebels in the troubled Indonesian province of Aceh.

Scottish-born Lesley Jane McCulloch, a lecturer at the University of Tasmania in Australia, and U.S. national Joy Lee Sadler were convicted last December of violating their visa status. Sadler, who received a four-month sentence, was freed last month.

Upon her release from prison in Banda Aceh, McCulloch, 40, sent a text message to her parents that read: "I'm free!"

She said she would resume her campaign against what she called Indonesia's treatment of the restive Aceh province.

"I will travel overseas to campaign about the situation here and also in Indonesia," she said.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported McCulloch will now travel to Malaysia and Thailand before retuning to Britain Wednesday. She was then scheduled to return to her job at the University of Tasmania.

During her trial, government prosecutors had sought nine-month terms for her and Sadler.

The two women were arrested Sept. 11, 2002, by Indonesian troops in the South Aceh district, which lies south of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh. They were charged with violating the terms of their visas by contacting members of the Free Aceh Movement, a separatist movement that has waged an armed struggle for independence since 1976.

Their sentence included the time spent in jail before the verdict.

When arrested, McCulloch and Sadler, a nurse, were handing out first aid kits to Aceh villagers.

McCulloch, who has written and lectured extensively on the Aceh conflict in the past, told authorities she was in Aceh on a personal vacation, and therefore had not sought the proper visa used by researchers.

Police have said the women were carrying documents and digital photos of the rebel movement — an assertion denied by the two.

More than 12,000 people, mostly civilians, are believed to have died thus far in the Aceh conflict — about 1,200 this year alone.

The rebels and the Indonesian government signed a peace accord late lat year in Geneva, Switzerland, in an attempt to end the long-running conflict in the resource-rich province.

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