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How a wrong visa can put you into jail in indonesia

Post Series: Visa Problems and Indonesian Jail


It was a Thursday I believe, it has only been so short but it felt like the days melted together somehow. As if all the days of the week became the same and so became one. With nothing to do, nothing to see other than boring white, molded prison walls and iron prison bars. Me and the Portuguese guy who was in the same cell heard different things every day saying that we’d have to stay another week, that we couldn’t leave until someone paid the fee to bail us out and sometimes we heard that we would only stay in the cell for one more night. Every day we were hoping for the latter to happen until that hope got crushed the day after. We had no information, no one really talked to us from immigration and the things we did hear appeared not true the next day.

How did we end up in this situation?

It was a Saturday afternoon, the monthly party that a good friend of mine organized proved to be a huge success and the beautiful location, a Balinese style retreat accommodation in the middle of the rice fields was already filled with people. The guys behind the bar whom I had known for a while now began to struggle as more thirsty people started coming in. I decided to help them out and started serving some cocktails and beers. I always enjoyed working behind the bar and soon started asking the guys who were working their asses off all night whether they wanted to take breaks so I could take over their shift for a while.
We never expected that a few minutes later, someone from immigration – who was already at the party – would make himself known with pictures and a list of all the foreign people such as  DJ’s, the lighting guy, people from the venue, the organization and me.

The immigration officer made pictures and videos as proof of us working and wanted to see our passports and ask us some questions. We were all aware that most of the foreigners were not on a working visa and neither was I but this had never been a problem before. We were not sure whether the immigration guy was just here to get money from us or that we were actually in real trouble, we decided to cooperate.

I met the guy from immigration back at the parking lot where he asked what my role was at the party. My ‘drunk guy doesn’t know anything’ act did make him laugh, but after some small talk he still asked whether he could check my passport to make sure everything was alright. “I just want to have a look, i’m sure everything is okay” he said when I gave him my passport. He went through some pages until he reached the page where my visa on arrival stamp for Indonesia was. He looked at me again, as if he wanted to say; ‘you are fucked’ with his eyes. And I knew that his eyes were telling the truth while I saw my beloved passport that I worked so hard for, disappear in his pocket.

He walked away without saying a word as if he found that his job with me was finished and went inside towards the DJ booth. I stayed to let the situation sink in for a few seconds and followed him inside. I saw him in front of the DJ booth grabbing his phone to make some more pictures of the DJ who was taking all kinds of poses and thought he had a fan, the poor DJ from the US smiled into the camera and did a little dance for the video. I knew he was a lost cause right there and went to the back of the venue to think about what to do next. Shame and anger went through my body and I noticed that for the first time I had to control myself not to do anything rash to make the situation worse. Some people told me to stay in the back to calm down and I knew there was nothing I could do right now but wait.
The next few hours passed by as a blur and the organization of the party talked to the immigration officer for hours. I was told that they probably only wanted money and that the party would pay if they got an amount from him. But when they asked how much they wanted, the officer grabbed 20 million rupiahs (roughly 1500 dollars) out of his backpack and laughed in our faces, saying that we didn’t have enough money to make him corrupt. We saw the options melt away slowly and knew this was going to be a lot more serious than we had thought before.

After waiting for a long time at the party even after everybody left, I got a small official paper that my Passport was taken by immigration and that I had to go over to their office on Monday. If only i’d knew what was still to come I would have tried anything in order to avoid going to that office but I didn’t know anything, and so I went.

The next day was spent calling a lawyer, the Dutch Embassy, people who had contacts at immigration and people who might be able to help. We had no idea how big this situation was going to get but we just made all the precautions that we thought might help.
So on Monday my friend who organized the party, the guy who did the video mapping – and whose passport also got taken – and me went down south towards the immigration office. The lawyer went ahead and we were told that he’d call us when he was ready. We spent a few hours waiting close to the immigration office in a little restaurant. After the call we went to the immigration office’s waiting room where we immediately saw the prison bars of the small hallway in the back leading to the cells. After two hours waiting there they eventually told us that ‘they wouldn’t have the time to deal with us today’.
Where they playing with our minds? Showing that they didn’t care about us and that they could do whatever they wanted? We waited all day and now I had to spend tomorrow doing the same? I really just wanted this all to be over but also just wanted to go home and sleep after a long day.

The next day we were better prepared, we left Ubud, my base at around 7 in the morning and arrived way before 9 o’clock. I was the first to start the interrogation process and was told to enter a small room. Where an immigration officer was waiting, he had a serious face as if he wasn’t physically able to smile, he scared me from the moment I saw him.

A local friend who was also in the organization of the party came with me as translator. We agreed that I wouldn’t talk too much Indonesian in order to keep the story – that I was here on holiday – more believable. The officer sat behind a computer which stood on a small, messy desk full of red and brown folders, loose papers, receipts, post it notes and pens scattered around. We sat on two plastic chairs in front of the desk and waited in silence for him to start talking. He was concentrating on his computer slowly typing something and it almost seemed like he forgot that we were sitting in front of him after he greeted us. Little did we know that this interrogation would go on for the next 6 hours with about one question every 15 minutes and then total silence. It was both tiring and it was playing with my mind since they didn’t give us any information whatsoever about what was going to happen to us.

The hours felt like days while I sat there in silence trying to understand what the two were talking about. Most of the talking between them was in Indonesian and I noticed that the officer was perfectly able to understand us when we talked in English but just refused to speak it. 

Every time he said something he wanted my friend to translate it to me.
The long silences and constantly trying to focus on not saying anything wrong for hours was immensely tiring. The moment when he asked us whether we would like to get something to eat felt like as if all my freedom returned to me at once, but for a short time. He immediately added that he was not done with me and that we had an hour to come back to the little room.

All I wanted at that time was get out of that room into the fresh air, I wasn’t even hungry, all my senses seemed to have left me. While we were walking towards a little food stall outside of the immigration premises I felt and thought nothing at all, I was empty.

We went back and the interrogation went further, asking questions such as; “how did you meet the organizer?” “When did you first hear about the party?” “What did you study in the Netherlands?” All questions that didn’t specifically give me any chance to prove my innocence of working illegally in Indonesia. He asked whether I was working alone behind the bar and I finally knew that I’d have time to explain that I was only helping the three guys who were actually working there. He looked at me with a fake surprised look and said “oh really? I have all this pictures and a video that only show you, alone behind the bar. You were serving drinks and therefore working as a bartender.” Me and my friend looked at each other in disbelief because we both knew that there was never a moment that I was alone. We looked at the pictures and saw that all three of the bartenders were indeed not there. A million thoughts went through my head, “did they manipulate the pictures?!” “Was this a set-up?!” “What more could they charge us with?” “Could they set us up with drugs if they wanted?” I knew that this would mean death penalty in Indonesia in some cases or at least a long prison sentence which was often the same here.

He looked at me, waiting for a response and I was definitely able to see that he was enjoying this. I was too confused to be even mad about the situation and tried to come up with an answer but was struggling to find the words. I realized that they could basically do everything they wanted, if they didn’t like us, they could lock us up, throw us out of the country or even worse. He looked at us from over his computer screen and said that he would really like to believe my story “but  the pictures tell me a different story”. “I have to discuss this case with higher layers within immigration which would mean that you will not be able to leave the immigration office tonight or maybe even for a while.” He said with his serious face which was perfect for bringing news like this and sending shivers to my spine.

At this point I wanted to scream, hit the guy in his face, grab my passport from one of the red folders where I saw it just a moment ago and run. But I knew I wouldn’t even be able to leave the border and I could get banned from Indonesia forever.

My friend and him started talking very fast in Indonesian and I saw the worry on my friend’s face when I asked him to translate. I saw from his expression that the information he got was bad which didn’t help in calming me down. He didn’t translate the conversation but instead told me to give my last statement before the interrogation was finished. I told him how sorry I was, that I was stupid for thinking I could do all this in the beautiful country of Indonesia and that I love this country and that I want to stay and come back more times after this holiday. I told him I didn’t know that it was such a serious thing I did and that I regretted ever doing it. But it was no use, it didn’t change his mind and I doubted that anything I said could. He told us to wait for the interrogation report for a while and that he’d be back.

It was already 4 o’clock when another officer came in who told me to go have a smoke, he added that I wouldn’t be able to smoke for a looong time with a mean smile on his face. He handed us the report and we were able to leave the small office and go outside. We had a smoke with the Portuguese guy who was doing the lights and video mapping at the party. He was sitting in the waiting room for all this time but knew that it was now his turn to go into the small room. Another immigration officer interrogated the Portuguese guy with my friend acting as a translator again while I sat outside trying to get all my thoughts together. I started texting friends and people to just let them know that I might not be able to have contact with them for a while and started to tell people not to worry. I was scared that they would worry too much if I didn’t reply or if they heard the story from others. I had no clarity at all and had no idea what would happen tonight and the day after and the worst was that I couldn’t give them any information as well.

After a few hours the Portuguese guy was finished as well and we went outside where it was already dark. I calmed down from the whole situation and received support from everybody saying that they would do their best to get us out as soon as possible.
We had a smoke and discussed the situation with the three of us and I noticed that the Portuguese guy was in the same state of mind as I was when I left the interrogation room, a combination of fear and confusion which we both never experienced before.

Our local friend explained that they have strong contacts within immigration and that we will be able to leave tomorrow. At this point I thought that this was good news but the Portuguese guy thought otherwise telling us that they couldn’t treat us like animals locking us up in cages. We took our time to call our embassies to explain the situation. The Dutch embassy did not pick up, they explained me before that they couldn’t really do anything for me and that I had to cooperate with the Indonesian system. Now immigration wanted to lock me up and I was still convinced that I was innocent of really working, wasn’t I just helping these people out for an hour or so as a kind deed? How is that considered working illegally? I tried to call a couple of times to the consulate and the alarm number of the embassy but no one picked up. I thought about the time that the Dutch government didn’t want to give me a passport even though I was born and raised there, the passport that I worked so hard for which was now taken by the Indonesian government within a month.

The officers started to get a bit annoyed by our efforts of gaining time and told me to come with them to sign the interrogation report. They asked me a couple of times already but we were specifically told by the lawyer that we shouldn’t sign and that we should wait as long as possible until he figured some stuff out.
When I came in with the officer I saw the scary looking guy who interrogated me, he was clearly fed up with waiting. He was waving with his pen in front of me and kept repeating that all I had to do was sign, as if it was the easiest thing in the world. I told him that I wanted to make some changes and read it again even though I knew that the information in the report was correct. I wanted to speak with my local friend who was talking to other officers about our case since the whole contract was in Indonesian and I couldn’t quite understand everything. He sighted and called my friend from the other room, we discussed for a while and decided to just sign the contract in order to keep the peace in the office.

After our friend and most of the officers left, we were still sitting in the waiting room. The intense atmosphere was gone and we sat on the sofas in front of the TV which were on one end of the room. There was one officer and another guy without uniform who was cleaning the desks in the office. He offered to get us some food since we were probably starving and was very friendly. He got on the bike and got us some rice and chicken which we ate in front of the TV that was playing Korean pop videos. We looked at each other in confusion, ‘weren’t we prisoners?’ ‘Why aren’t we in the cell?’ ‘Can we sleep on these couches?’ At this point we started to laugh about the whole situation and made jokes about having the most freedom a prisoner ever had. We were able to have a smoke outside, watch TV, walk around, use our phones. But our dreams were quickly shattered again by the officer; “you sleep there” pointing towards the depressing prison cell, but he added “if you are ready” which kind of made us laugh again.
At this point our fear disappeared completely and we made jokes about the small cell when we eventually went in and the huge bed that took up half of the room we had to share.
After we checked out our new accommodation I walked into the hallway which we passed before and saw that they left the door open.

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The next morning I woke up with a smile on my face. The words “Jaime you fucked up big time” ran through my head but in a joking way as if everything was already over. I imagined hearing this from my friends in Bali tonight after I got back to my place in Ubud. I imagined their faces when they would ask me how it was to spend a night in a Indonesian immigration cell and I imagined calling my parents to tell them about the story and hear them tell me to be careful next time.

My thoughts would have been a lot less happy if I had known that I wouldn’t see my friends tonight, if I had known that I would only see them after a few days for just a short moment before having to leave them again for a long time.
If I only knew what was still going to happen. This was just the beginning…

To Be Continued….

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Jaime is an explorer, he can't sit still and loves a challenge. He makes a living writing articles, Digital Marketing and more

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