Indonesia: Foreign Minister seeks to limit journalists’ access to trouble spots

January 30, 2001

His Excellency Abdurrahman Wahid
President, Republic of Indonesia
Office of the President
Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 1
Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia

VIA FACSIMILE: 62-21-778-182

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by a proposal announced last week by Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab that could severely restrict foreign journalists from traveling to a number of crisis-prone regions in Indonesia.

Shihab’s proposal would require visiting foreign journalists to be cleared in writing by security forces before visiting Aceh, the Malukus, and Irian Jaya, all areas that have seen bitter ethnic and sectarian violence in recent months. A foreign ministry statement last week said foreign journalists could be detained by police and returned to Jakarta if they failed to receive permission to visit these regions. A number of foreign correspondents visiting Indonesia have already been warned by Indonesian embassy officials abroad that they may not visit some areas.

We are concerned that this policy could be used as a wedge to erode hard-won gains for press freedom in Indonesia. Travel bans on reporters were frequently exploited by the dictatorial Suharto regime to control coverage of issues throughout the country. Such restrictions are a threat to all journalistsÑboth foreign and localÑand are incompatible with the public’s need for information.

As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ sees restrictions on the movement of foreign reporters as an unacceptable infringement on press freedom.

We respectfully urge Your Excellency to publicly clarify this issue and to instruct the foreign ministry to allow reporters reasonable access to all parts of Indonesia, without interference by the military. We further urge your government to consider lifting existing requirements that visiting journalists apply for special journalists’ visas as a precondition for covering events in Indonesia. Such visa requirements have been used as a pretext by security forces to harass and detain foreign journalists on a number of occasions in the past.

We appreciate your attention to these matters, and await your response.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director