Indonesia: Police harass TV crew in West Timor

February 10, 2000

His Excellency Abdurrahman Wahid
President, Republic of Indonesia
Office of the President
Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 17
Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia

VIA FAX: +62-21-778-182

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the recent harassment of three Portuguese television journalists, who were detained for three days by police in the Indonesian province of West Timor before being forced to leave the country.

On February 3, the SIC television crew–reporter João Ferreira, news editor Rita Nolasco, and cameraman Fernando Faria–was filming an interview with Moko Soares, commander of the local Sakunar militia, which has been accused of committing atrocities against East Timorese civilians who voted for independence from Indonesia. The journalists were interviewing Soares just across the border from the East Timor town of Passabe, where United Nations investigators recently discovered mass graves containing the remains of at least 50 people, massacred in the violence that followed East Timor’s August referendum.

Officers from a nearby Indonesian army (TNI) checkpoint told the reporters they could not film without a special permit. The television crew had obtained journalists’ visas from the Indonesian consulate in Darwin, Australia, and had registered with Indonesian police in the West Timor town of Motoain upon crossing the border from newly independent East Timor.

Nevertheless, TNI soldiers summoned the police, and an officer arrived shortly before 12:00 p.m. He invited the journalists to accompany him to the police station, where he said they could obtain a letter of recommendation allowing them to resume their work.

Once the journalists arrived at the Kefamenanu police station, however, they began to be interrogated. They were questioned for more than seven hours, according to Ferreira, who told CPJ that he and his colleagues were also fingerprinted, photographed, and generally treated as criminals. Authorities repeatedly told the journalists that they were not under arrest, but denied them permission to leave. At around 8:00 p.m., the journalists were escorted by police back to their hotel, and six armed guards were posted outside. Police told the journalists that the guards were there to “protect” the crew from local militia members, though the journalists had emphasized that they did not want police protection.

The next morning, February 4, police arrived at the hotel to escort the journalists to the provincial capital of Kupang. Police told the journalists that they had entered West Timor improperly, and therefore had to report to police headquarters in Kupang, which is about a five-hour drive from Kefamenanu.

At the police headquarters in Kupang, the journalists were told that because their visas were not stamped upon their entry to West Timor, in Motoain, they could be fined, or jailed for up to three years. The officers, after confirming with police in Motoain that Ferreira, Nolasco, and Faria had indeed registered at the border, said that they would not arrest the journalists, but told them that they would have to return to the Motoain checkpoint. The immigration authority in Kupang confiscated the journalists’ passports, and police escorted them to a hotel, where they stayed overnight.

On February 5, the journalists, accompanied by two immigration officials, made the ten-hour journey from Kupang to Motoain. An official at the immigration office had instructed the journalists that they must “cooperate,” according to Ferreira, by paying for the fuel costs incurred on the trip, as well as for all meals and accommodation required by their official escorts. Upon arriving in Motoain, the immigration officials turned over the journalists’ passports to the police, who stamped them “Entry Denied,” effectively forcing them to return to East Timor.

As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is dismayed that the authorities in West Timor continue to harass journalists, preventing them from carrying out their professional duties. Members of the SIC television crew believe they were harassed because of their interviews with Moko Soares, and for their reporting on the links between the militia leader, the Indonesian military, and the police. Indonesian police arrested Soares on February 5 and have charged him with the illegal possession and sale of firearms. United Nations officials in East Timor have said they have massive evidence connecting Soares to at least twelve murders, as well as a series of raids in East Timor.

CPJ strongly urges Your Excellency to order an immediate investigation into the actions taken by officials in West Timor, and to discipline those officers responsible for the harassment endured by Ferreira, Nolasco, and Faria. We also ask that you instruct the Indonesian police and armed forces to respect the right of journalists to work freely.



Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director