May 11, 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
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by the recent attack on the Surabaya-based daily newspaper Jawa Pos by members of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the grassroots Muslim organization that you chaired for fifteen years before becoming president of Indonesia.
Last Saturday, May 6, some 30 members of Banser, the paramilitary youth wing of the influential, 30-million strong NU, forcibly entered the offices of Jawa Pos and threatened staff members, causing them to suspend operations and cancel the paper’s Sunday edition. “We decided not to publish the Sunday edition since we technically and psychologically could not work that night,” said Arief Affandi, the daily’s managing editor.
The Banser members were apparently angered by a May 6 Jawa Pos article which alleged that Your Excellency’s government practiced “corruption, collusion and nepotism.” In particular, the article accused leading NU members, including you and your younger brother, of involvement in corrupt activities.
Following the occupation of its offices, the newspaper apologized for the story, saying it contained factual errors. The newspaper agreed to print seven consecutive apologies in the paper, donate funds to finance the building of a mosque for NU, and investigate the reporters responsible for the story.
Despite the newspaper’s apology, you then issued a statement that seemed to support NU’s actions. On Monday, May 8, you claimed that the Jawa Pos article was “part of a conspiracy to topple and discredit the government.” The chief executive officer of Jawa Pos, Dahlan Iskan, then resigned after denying this allegation.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to protecting the rights of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ is alarmed that you did not immediately condemn the occupation of the newspaper’s offices. Yet on World Press Freedom Day, just three days before the attack on Jawa Pos, you pledged to defend the rights of the press, saying, “The Indonesian government has to protect the press from the many forces who do not want freedom.”
Mob violence as an instrument of protest against the media constitutes a fundamental threat to press freedom in Indonesia. According to research by the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists, there have already been 12 incidents of mob pressure against media organizations so far this year.
CPJ joins our colleagues in Indonesia in encouraging your government to condemn the attack on Jawa Pos and to call on NU to exercise restraint in its protests against the press. We urge you to use the powers of your office to prevent the public from taking violent action against journalists, reminding you that Indonesian law provides legal redress in cases of alleged libel and defamation. Given the impressive strides Indonesia has made in press freedom since the resignation of former president Suharto two years ago, it would be tragic if public anger were allowed to interfere with the right of journalists to work without fear of harassment.
Ann K. Cooper