Indonesia’s Press Strives to Maintain Its Hard-Won FreedomUpcoming Election Tests Government’s Commitment to Media Rights

New York, N.Y., June 2, 1999–The flowering of press freedom in Indonesia in the year since President Suharto was forced from office is one of the few tangible reforms of interim President B. J. Habibie, but also one of the most fragile, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a special report released today as Indonesia prepares to go to the polls Monday in the country’s first free national elections in decades.

While Indonesia now has more than a thousand new publications and 24 new press associations, and a Minister of Information, Yunus Yosfiah, who claims that “freedom of the press will help our democracy,” many journalists are concerned that repressive press laws remain on the books, CPJ says. Nor has the government’s power been used to ensure the safety of journalists working in embattled East Timor, the territory facing its own historic vote in a month, the report notes. “Despite evidence that elements of the Indonesian military have armed many of the pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor that are responsible for attacking both foreign correspondents and local journalists there, the president and other high-ranking officials say they can do nothing to curb the violence,” says CPJ.

Also contained in the report, No Turning Back: Indonesia’s Press Strives to Maintain Its Hard-Won Freedomare:

  • Excerpts from interviews with President B. J. Habibie, Information Minister Yunus Yosfiah, political opposition leader Abdul Wahid, East Timorese publisher Salvador Ximenes Soares, Tempo news magazine publisher Fikri Jufri, and Indonesian Newspaper Publishers Association head Leo Batubara;
  • Information about the draft press law supported by journalists groups in Indonesia, and a pending law regulating broadcast media; and
  • An analysis of threats to correspondents covering East Timor, where political instability has prompted fears of a full-scale civil war.

The report was co-authored by Kavita Menon, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, and A. Lin Neumann, regional consultant in Asia for CPJ. It is based on recent meetings in Indonesia held by a delegation from CPJ and the International Press Institute, and on CPJ’s research and documentation of press freedom abuses.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.

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