Threatened by separatists, Aceh newspaper suspends publication

New York, August 15, 2001—On August 11, Serambi Indonesia, the largest daily newspaper in Aceh Province, suspended publication under pressure from the separatist Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or GAM), CPJ has confirmed.

GAM leaders were angered by an article about the massacre of 31 villagers in eastern Aceh that appeared in the August 10 edition of Serambi. The police hold GAM responsible for the killings, while GAM blames Indonesian security forces.

A GAM spokesman called the newspaper’s offices after the article was published and accused Serambi of siding with the government in its coverage of the massacre.

“I have forbidden [the newspaper] to publish lies,” a GAM spokesman told The Associated Press. “People here say they will burn down the building and kill workers.”

Representatives of GAM told Serambi management that they could not guarantee the safety of newspaper employees if they continued publishing, according to the Jakarta office of the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

“We are appalled by GAM’s heavy-handed attempts to influence legitimate news coverage,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Journalists should never be targeted simply because one group disapproves of their reporting.”

The paper has not produced an issue since August 10. It is not clear when publication will resume.

Aceh suffers from a 26-year-old struggle between armed separatist rebels and Indonesian security forces. Journalists who report on the conflict routinely face pressure from various parties, including GAM, the police and the Indonesian military.

In June, Serambi Indonesia was also forced to suspend operations temporarily, due in part to threats from GAM.