BANGKOK – An American who lived in Bali during the pandemic was deported Thursday after praising the Indonesian island as “queer friendly” and offering to help foreigners enter the country despite the coronavirus travel ban.
Indonesian immigration officials arrested 28-year-old Ms. Kristen Gray overnight on Tuesday, saying she was being deported for “spreading information that may unsettle the public.” They also accused her of “engaging in dangerous activities” and endangering public order by disobeying rules and laws.
“I’m not guilty,” she told reporters outside the immigration prison on Tuesday. “I made a statement about LGBT and am deported because of LGBT.”
Her arrest came three days after she posted a thread on Twitter praising the ease of her inexpensive Bali life and tolerant community, and promoting an e-book that she titled “Our Bali Life Is Your Own” wrote with her partner. Saundra Alexander. The couple also offered tutorials for people planning to move to the island.
Ms. Gray and Ms. Alexander, 30, were deported Thursday morning after flying from Bali to Jakarta on Wednesday evening and staying overnight. They boarded a flight to Los Angeles with a stop in Tokyo.
“The deportation activities went smoothly,” said Jamaruli Manihuruk, head of the Bali Immigration Service.
The women’s lawyer, Erwin Siregar, said the deportations were undeserved and that the couple had broken no laws. Their goal was to help people get to Bali after the coronavirus restrictions were lifted, he said.
“They are good people,” said Mr. Siregar. “You can convince tourists to come to Indonesia after the pandemic is over without paying a dime. We should thank them, not deport them. “
Bali, which, in contrast to the rest of the Muslim-majority Indonesia, is predominantly Hindu, is heavily dependent on tourism and has long maintained a reputation for tolerance in an increasingly conservative country. But with the ban on international tourists, many hotels and destinations have closed. Balinese workers struggled to make a living and the tourism industry was desperate to bring visitors back.
On her long Twitter thread, Ms. Gray, who is black, praised Bali as a place where blacks are welcomed. She also bragged about leading an elegant lifestyle on a budget, comments that sparked a firestorm of criticism among Indonesians on social media.
Jan. 20, 2021, 11:33 p.m. ET
Some complained that foreign tourists like Ms. Gray helped raise prices on the island and limit opportunities for Balinese outside the service industry.
“Why do Americans think it’s worth beautifying an entire island and forcing locals from their own country into low-paying jobs,” one commenter wrote on Twitter.
In her thread, Ms. Gray said that she and Ms. Alexander left the United States last January, in part because of the high cost of living, and that she found living in Bali much more rewarding and cheaper.
“This island was amazing because of our elevated lifestyle at a much lower cost of living,” she wrote. “Being a digital nomad is everything.”
She said she paid $ 400 for a tree house compared to $ 1,300 for a Los Angeles studio.
The couple originally planned to stay for six months but stayed in Bali after the spread of the coronavirus halted most international travel. Indonesia banned foreign visitors from the hardest hit countries in March and soon extended the ban to all foreign tourists.
In a statement, Bali Immigration Services said Ms. Gray’s Twitter posts could “unsettle the public” by suggesting that the island is tolerant of gay men and lesbians in a country that does not recognize same-sex marriage. She was also accused of spreading information about the ease of entry into Indonesia during the pandemic.
In one of her posts, Ms. Gray wrote that the couple’s e-book contained “direct links to our visa agents and how to get to Indonesia during Covid”.
A Twitter observer noted that it was ironic for Ms. Gray to claim she was a victim of discrimination after hailing Bali as a queer-friendly destination.
“You said Bali was queer-friendly, but you also said you were discriminated against because you were gay in a homophobic country,” the observer wrote.
Mr Siregar, the lawyer, said the sudden deportation was unfair for the couple as they had no opportunity to prove their case in court and only had a few hours to pack their bags and say goodbye to the dog they had adopted. He accused immigration officials of deporting her over social media criticism.
“They are good-hearted people,” he said. “They like to help poor children and buy them food. It’s proof that they don’t want to live selfishly. I wonder why good people like her get deported. “
Ms. Gray’s Twitter account was no longer public until Tuesday and the couple’s e-book was no longer available online.
Dera Menra Sijabat reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.