SEAPA Protest Indonesian Government’s and Military’s Growing Press Censorship on Aceh

3 June 2003

BANGKOK — Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) Protests the mounting and systematic efforts by Indonesian government and security forces in Aceh to restrict press coverage of the fighting there.

On May 29, Minister for Communication and Information Syamsul Muarif has voiced support for the military’s decision to curb media coverage of the conflict in rebellious Aceh province, where more than 100 people have been killed since the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) launched a crackdown on separatist rebels 12 days ago.

He was quoted by state news agency Antara at the opening of a discussion on media professionalism as saying Aceh’s martial law administrator Major General Endang Suwarya, has the right to ban journalists if their activities “disturb the operation to restore security”.

A day after the military offensive began on May 19, Suwarya announced that all journalists in Aceh will have to be accredited by the provincial military command. He also warned journalists not to report on statements issued by the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) or or carry news that supports the rebels’ cause.

SEAPA viewed these collective efforts as alarming and a fragrant violation against human rights, particularly press freedom.

By doing so, Megawati government has ignored the hard-won democracy and press freedom which helped toppled Suharto’s repressive rule in 1998 and subsequently brought her government into power.

SEAPA will not condone this press restriction on Aceh since it will give the military there “a total free hand” to further commit a gross human rights violation against the Acehnese whose desire for independence has already stemmed from decades of injustice and fragrant violation of human rights..

SEAPA is also concerned that this press censorship will prevent journalists from reporting a balanced reporting which is not only a cardinal principle of good journalism but also a protection against their lives when dealing with the conflict situation.

Since the military operation started, the government has even taken the unprecedented step of “embedding” about 50 Indonesian journalists with the troops–taking a cue from the press policy adopted by the U.S. military in Iraq.

New York-based press advocacy group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has recorded at least seven incidents in which journalists and television crews were ambushed by armed men while driving on the main road between the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, and the town of Lhokseumawe.

All of these incidents occurred in Teupin Raya Subdistrict, on a stretch of road near the village of Beureunen, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away from a security post manned by the

Mobile Police Brigade (Brimob), a paramilitary unit. None of the journalists was injured.

In the last two weeks, security forces in Aceh have detained, interrogated, and threatened local journalists and foreign correspondents who have reported on abuses committed by soldiers and police in the course of the joint military operation. In addition, several reporters told CPJ

that security forces have also detained and harassed their sources. TNI spokesman Major General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin said last Tuesday the military will sue the Koran Tempo daily newspaper for publishing an “incorrect” report on the killing of 10 civilians during a raid in the first week of the anti-GAM offensive.

He said TNI might also sue France-based news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), from which Koran Tempo sourced information for its May 22 story on the massacre.

In this regard, SEAPA joined the spirit of local journalists and other international rights advocacy groups to condemn this gross violation of press freedom and urge the Indonesian government and military to cease this effort immediately.

SEAPA is the Bangkok-based regional press advocacy group. Found in 1998, it strives to promote and preserve press freedom in the region.

Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
538/1 Samsen Rd Dusit Bangkok 10300 Thailand
Tel/Fax: 66-2-2435579

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