March 18, 2002
Her Excellency Megawati Sukarnoputri
President, Republic of Indonesia
Office of the President
Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 1
Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia
Via facsimile: 62-21-778-182
The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the Indonesian government’s decision to deny Australian journalist Lindsay Murdoch’s application for a renewal of his working visa, thereby effectively banning him from working as a correspondent in Jakarta. This action is a clear attempt to punish Murdoch for writing stories that criticize government policies.
Last December 10, Murdoch, the staff correspondent in Indonesia for the Australian newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, applied to renew his work visa. Wahid Supriyadi, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, had earlier sent a fax to the Herald suggesting that they nominate a new correspondent to replace Murdoch. Subsequently, Murdoch’s application was denied.
After Murdoch’s editors visited the Foreign Ministry several times, he was granted a three-month extension of his visa. That extension expired on March 10, and Murdoch can no longer legally work as a journalist in Indonesia.
Supriyadi told Murdoch that an “interdepartmental committee” had recommended that he not be granted a new work visa. Supriyadi also told Murdoch that the committee had mentioned two stories as being particularly objectionable.
The first was a May 14, 2001, piece about an incident in which Indonesian soldiers in the restive province of Aceh murdered a baby in front of his mother. The other was a series of articles in 2001 that uncovered evidence that East Timorese children, separated from their families during the violence following the territory’s 1999 vote rejecting Indonesian rule, had been sent to orphanages in Indonesia and were being held against their parents’ will.
To the best of our knowledge, Indonesian authorities have not denied that these incidents occurred. They should not be expelling a reporter for bring such abuses to light. It is particularly chilling that an “interdepartmental committee” is judging stories and banning foreign correspondents from working. This is the same tactic used frequently to blacklist correspondents during the long dictatorship of former president Suharto.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ believes that all journalists, whether foreign or local, have the right to work free of harassment and intimidation. Following Suharto’s ouster in 1998, one of the most sweeping and positive changes in Indonesia was the establishment of a free press. Banning Murdoch undermines this commitment to press freedom.
We agree with Murdoch’s editors, who said in a statement, “We respectfully reject that any Government can seek to decide whether any of our journalists are acceptable for the purpose of reporting from a foreign country.”
CPJ respectfully calls on Your Excellency to intercede on Lindsay Murdoch’s behalf and see that his work visa is renewed immediately. We also ask that you disband any government committee that seeks to censor or judge the work of journalists in Indonesia. We thank you for your attention to this matter and await your response.