Attacks on the Press 2000: Indonesia

A YEAR AND A HALF AFTER THE END OF PRESIDENT SUHARTO’S authoritarian rule, the most significant reform in Indonesia remains the emergence of a largely unshackled press.

With hundreds of islands and a large, fragmented population, the press plays a crucial role in allowing Indonesians to debate their future and in calming tensions that arise as a result of political conflicts. When a number of bombs exploded outside Christian churches on Christmas Eve, killing several and prompting fears of spreading religious conflict, many leading newspapers hurried into print with special editions designed to demystify the events and prevent rumors from spreading. The rush of media coverage had a soothing effect, despite the atmosphere of crisis.

Freedom, however, has placed the press under constant scrutiny and frequent threat in a diverse nation beset with sectarian violence, political instability, and economic crisis. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) in Jakarta documented 118 cases of attacks and threats against journalists between January and mid-October 2000, the majority of them from angry mobs who rejected the premise that journalists have a responsibility to cover all sides of every story.

Trapped by bloody communal violence between Muslims and Christians in the Moluccan islands, journalists often find it impossible to cover both sides of the conflict. In the volatile province of Aceh, separatist rebels are fighting for an Islamic homeland. When CPJ Asia program coordinator Kavita Menon and Asia program consultant A. Lin Neumann visited Aceh in June to investigate press conditions in the province, local journalists reported being frequently subjected to threats and intimidation from both the military and the rebel Free Aceh Movement.

In other instances, the give-and-take of a free press provokes conflicts that were once buried under authoritarian controls. In January, for example, local journalist Hoesin Kalahapan wrote about the misappropriation of funds earmarked for reforestation in the remote province of East Kalimantan. Days after his story appeared in the Kalimantan newspaper Tabloid Menara, Kalahapan was kidnapped, beaten, and then released. After a second kidnapping, the journalist fled to Jakarta, where he was pursued and kidnapped a third time, held for a week, and tortured repeatedly.

“The government has to protect the press from the many forces who don’t want freedom,” said President Abdurrahman Wahid during ceremonies organized by UNESCO and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance on May 3, World Press Freedom Day. “My administration looks with relish on the emergence of a free press.”

Just three days after Wahid’s ringing endorsement of press freedom, paramilitaries associated with the grassroots Islamic organization that Wahid had chaired for many years attacked the Surabaya offices of Jawa Pos, one of the country’s largest daily newspapers, closing it down for a day. Jawa Pos had angered the group’s militant youth wing by running an article that criticized the president and his relatives. The newspaper acknowledged problems with the story and printed a front-page apology, but Wahid nonetheless defended the militants.

Most formal restrictions on the press were removed after Suharto’s ouster in May 1998. The press licensing system was abolished, and Wahid eliminated the Ministry of Information altogether when he took office in 1999. The shape and scope of future media reforms, however, remained the subject of lively political debate.

Most local press associations support the idea of a regulatory commission for broadcast media that would represent a broad cross-section of Indonesian society and would be subject to minimal government interference. The composition and legal basis for the commission have proven to be thorny issues, however. The body would likely be modeled after the United States’ Federal Communications Commission, and its members would be accountable to Parliament. But some government and industry players pushed for a direct hand in regulating broadcast media, much to the dismay of those seeking a more independent and representative commission. The debate is likely to continue for some time in Parliament.

In an unfortunate legacy of the Suharto years, foreign journalists still needed special visas to work in the country. While many reporters routinely ignored this annoying restriction, they did so at their own peril. On December 2, veteran Swiss journalist Oswald Iten was arrested by police in Jayapura, the capital of Irian Jaya (also known as West Papua), after he took pictures of an independence demonstration staged by Papuan activists. Iten, a correspondent for the business newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, was detained for 11 days in dangerous and miserable conditions, threatened with prosecution for violating visa restrictions, and finally deported. The Wahid administration has thus far ignored calls by CPJ and others to lift the press visa requirement.

Radio Republik Indonesia

A Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) station in Irian Jaya Province was attacked by armed members of Satgas Papua, a separatist militia that had tried to force the station to broadcast a statement from the group. The incident occurred in the town of Fakfak, Irian Jaya, which most locals now call Papua.

Militia members rampaged through the station headquarters, destroying broadcast equipment and damaging parts of the building. The station was off the air for four days. RRI estimated its losses from the attack at around 400 million rupiah (US$42,000).

As the state-owned radio network, RRI has a reputation for promoting the views of the central government in the province, supporting, for instance, limited autonomy rather than outright independence, and referring to the province as Irian Jaya.

João Ferreira, SIC Television
Rita Nolasco, SIC Television
Fernando Faria, SIC Television

Police in West Timor detained a Portuguese television crew for three days and then deported them.

The SIC Television crew included reporter Ferreira, news editor Nolasco, and cameraman Faria. On February 3, while the crew was filming an interview with Moko Soares, commander of the local Sakunar militia, Indonesian Army (TNI) officers told the reporters that they could not film without a special permit.

The incident occurred just across the border from the East Timor town of Passabe, where United Nations investigators had recently discovered the mass grave of at least 50 people massacred in the violence that followed East Timor’s referendum in August 1999. The local militia was accused of committing atrocities against East Timorese civilians who voted for independence from Indonesia.

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 told 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 were interrogated for more than seven hours, according to Ferreira, who told CPJ that he and his colleagues were also fingerprinted and photographed. Authorities repeatedly claimed that the journalists were not under arrest, but also denied them permission to leave.

At around 8:00 p.m., police escorted the crew back to their hotel. They posted six armed guards outside the hotel, allegedly to protect the journalists from local militia attacks.

The next morning, February 4, police arrived at the hotel to escort the journalists to police headquarters in the provincial capital of Kupang, about a five-hour drive from Kefamenanu. Officials there told the journalists that because their visas had not been stamped when they entered West Timor, they could be fined or imprisoned for up to three years.

After confirming with police in Motoain that Ferreira, Nolasco, and Faria had indeed registered at the border, the Kupang police 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 10-hour journey from Kupang to Motoain. 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.

CPJ sent a letter to President Abdurrahman Wahid on February 10, asking him to instruct Indonesian police and armed forces to respect the right of journalists to work freely.

Hais Quraisi, Jakarta News FM

Quraisi, a radio reporter for Jakarta News FM, was attacked by police while covering a student demonstration in front of the attorney general’s office in South Jakarta.

As Quraisi was reporting live from the demonstration, which ended with violent clashes between police and students, he was approached by a group of angry police officers. They criticized Quraisi for his reporting and then caned him.

The journalist managed to escape with wounds to his right shoulder.

Hoesin Kalahapan, Menara Tabloid

Kalahapan, managing editor of the newspaper Menara Tabloid, was abducted and tortured on three separate occasions after he wrote about corruption in East Kalimantan, a province on the island of Borneo.

All three attacks appeared to stem from a story that ran in Menara Tabloid on January 21, alleging that 27.5 billion rupiyah (US$3.5 million) had gone missing from a federal fund earmarked for tree-planting in East Kalimantan.

Kalahapan was first abducted on the morning of February 21, when unknown knife-wielding assailants forced him into a four-wheel-drive vehicle while he was walking near his house in Samarinda, the capital of East Kalimantan. His abductors warned him to drop the missing-funds story. After an hour of threats and physical abuse, Kalahapan was released.

Meanwhile, a federal agency began an investigation into the tree-planting scandal. On March 6, the national magazine Forum Keadilan ran a story accusing the local governor of involvement in the scandal. And on March 9, Kalahapan was abducted again, this time on his way to the governor’s office for an interview. Two men accosted him on a public bus, forced him out at knifepoint, and shoved him into the same dark-blue Isuzu Panther that had been used in the first attack. A total of five men forced Kalahapan to lie down on the floor of the vehicle, pummeling him with their fists while accusing the journalist of leaking information to Forum Keadilan. After his release, Kalahapan went to the police station to file a complaint.

The next day, an anonymous caller phoned Kalahapan and asked why he had gone to the police. “Maybe I just beat you,” the man said, according to Kalahapan’s own account, “but my friends will kill you.” The journalist again went to the local police, who posted a guard at his house.

Following these first two attacks, the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists (Aliansi Jurnalis Independen, or AJI) heard about the case and on March 14 evacuated Kalahapan to Jakarta, where he was staying with his parents at the time of his third abduction.

On April 3, Kalahapan received a call from someone who claimed to represent an East Kalimantan opposition group. The caller said he had additional information about the missing funds and requested a meeting. On his way to the meeting, Kalahapan was stopped by another man who said he had come to take the journalist to the appointment. Kalahapan was ushered into a waiting car, where he was assaulted, blindfolded, and gagged by three men who then threw him into the back of the vehicle.

After a long drive, Kalahapan was taken inside what he took to be a warehouse. He was hung upside down, still blindfolded and with his hands bound behind his back. His captors then beat him on his head, arms, stomach, and legs while shouting questions at him. Kalahapan later told CPJ that he was hung upside down and tortured every evening for a week.

On the fourth day, the journalist overheard one of his captors saying that orders had been received not to kill him. On the seventh day, another man said Kalahapan could be released because “the target [has] been reached.”

On April 10, Kalahapan was driven, still blindfolded, to the Palomas district of Jakarta, where he was released. After his three-stage ordeal was over, Kalahapan’s case was taken up by the national human rights organization KONTRAS (Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence), along with AJI and the Jakarta office of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance. The journalist made a full report to police, who launched an investigation.

The investigation stalled after police discovered evidence suggesting that Kalahapan had been taken to Bandung, a mountain city several hours north of Jakarta, according to AJI. No arrests had been made at year’s end.

Jawa Pos

In response to an article in the May 6 edition of the daily Jawa Pos, militants associated with the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a grassroots Islamic organization formerly chaired by President Abdurrahman Wahid, attacked the paper’s Surabaya headquarters.

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.

The Banser members were apparently angered by an article alleging that the Wahid government practiced “corruption, collusion, and nepotism.” The article accused leading NU members, including Wahid, of involvement in corrupt activities.

Following the occupation of its offices, Jawa Pos 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 the NU, and discipline the reporters responsible for the story.

On May 8, despite the newspaper’s apology, President Wahid issued a statement that seemed to support Banser’s actions. Instead of condemning the group’s vigilante tactics, Wahid accused Jawa Pos of publishing the article as “part of a conspiracy to topple and discredit the government.”

As The Jakarta Post noted in a May 9 editorial, the attack, coupled with Wahid’s angry remarks, “set a dangerous precedent…[by justifying] the use of mob violence to settle differences, especially differences with the media.”

In a May 11 letter to President Wahid, CPJ urged him to use his authority to prevent violence against the press.

Ibrahim Achmad, Serambi

Achmad, a reporter for the regional daily Serambi, was attacked by a security officer while reporting on the police-sponsored return of about 5000 internal refugees to villages around Lhoksukon, in Aceh Province.

The journalist had stopped for a cup of coffee at a roadside stall in Cot Girek, where a group of police officers from the elite Mobile Brigade unit had gathered. One of the officers asked what he was doing in the area. When Achmad identified himself as a journalist covering the refugee resettlement, he was assaulted.

The police officer punched Achmad in the stomach, knocked him to the ground, and then kicked him repeatedly. Other officers then intervened, managing to restrain Achmad’s assailant.

The next day, on July 30, Superintendent Syafei Aksal, police chief of North Aceh district, apologized for the incident and promised an investigation.

Max Arthur, DMWS Radio
James Ratu, NTT Ekspres
Matheus Riwu Rohi, NTT Ekspres
James Risfointuno, Surya Timor

Four journalists were assaulted in the town of Kupang, West Timor, while covering an August 30 protest rally on the first anniversary of East Timor’s vote for independence from Indonesia. (West Timor is part of the Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur).

Thousands of East Timorese refugees and pro-Jakarta militia members convened at the provincial legislature building in a demonstration led by militia leader Eurico Guterres. The demonstration became violent, and several journalists were attacked while attempting to report on the event.

Arthur, a journalist with the Kupang-based radio station DMWS, was attacked after a militia member loudly accused him of being a spy, according to the Jakarta bureau of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA). A mob of demonstrators then pursued Arthur, who was carrying radio equipment and wearing a press pass that clearly identified him as a reporter. The journalist was punched and kicked repeatedly, sustaining injuries to his jaw and bruises on his face, arms, and ribs. The assailants also stole Arthur’s tape recorder and microphone.

Three other journalists were beaten in separate incidents during the demonstration: Reporter Ratu and photographer Rohi, both with the provincial newspaper NTT Ekspres, and Risfointuno, a reporter for the West Timor newspaper Surya Timor. All suffered minor injuries.

Oswald Iten, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Iten, a veteran foreign-affairs correspondent for the Zurich-based newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, was arrested at his hotel in Jayapura, Irian Jaya (also known as West Papua). Police accused Iten of violating Indonesia’s immigration laws by reporting without a press visa. He faced a five-year jail term if convicted.

Foreign journalists are required to apply for a special press visa in order to work in Indonesia, and this restriction has been used to prevent the international media from reporting on politically sensitive subjects, including human rights abuses. Iten’s arrest followed a raid by Indonesian security forces on the headquarters of the West Papua independence movement, and came amid a general crackdown on separatist activity in Irian Jaya Province.

Iten was initially imprisoned in a crowded cell with about 40 other prisoners, but, after witnessing horrific incidents of police brutality, was eventually moved to a separate cell. Lt. Col. Daud Sihombing, police chief in Jayapura, said that once police concluded their investigation, they would prosecute Iten, despite the journalist’s offer to leave the country.

On December 6, CPJ sent a letter to President Abdurrahman Wahid, urging him to order Iten’s immediate release. CPJ noted that requiring foreign journalists to obtain special permission to work in Indonesia is a restrictive, repressive relic of an authoritarian system.

Police eventually freed Iten on December 13, after the central government ordered his deportation from Indonesia. However, Police Chief Sihombing told the Australian Associated Press news agency that Iten’s detention was intended as a warning to foreign journalists reporting in Indonesia. “There is an educational aspect to this case for anyone else who wants to commit the same violation in the future,” he said.