Military curbs press coverage in Aceh

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the efforts of Indonesian military authorities in Aceh to control press coverage of the conflict there.

Your government declared martial law in Aceh effective at midnight on Monday, May 19, beginning a massive military offensive to crush the separatist Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym as GAM. On May 20, Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, the military commander and head of the martial law administration in Aceh, warned journalists that they should neither report on statements issued by GAM leaders nor carry news that supports the separatist cause. “There should be no reports from GAM and no reports that praise GAM,” Suwarya said, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The major general also ordered journalists to adjust their coverage. “I want all news published to contain the spirit of nationalism,” he said, according to the national English-language daily Jakarta Post. “Put the interests of the unitary state of Indonesia first.” Suwarya added that he will soon issue rules governing press coverage, and that all journalists will have to be accredited by the military command in Aceh.

Indonesian journalists have protested the statements, noting that such policies not only violate their right to press freedom but also seriously endanger their safety. “The media’s credibility and journalists’ safety in conflict areas can only be guaranteed if there is fair and impartial coverage, not one-sided propaganda,” said the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).

Already, military officials have issued warnings to the regional daily Serambi Indonesia and the private broadcaster Metro TV for carrying reports considered to favor GAM. Meanwhile the private radio station Nikoya FM, based in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, received a telephone call from someone claiming to be a GAM commander threatening that the rebels would kill a reporter if the station did not start carrying more balanced news.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ urges Your Excellency to direct military authorities in Aceh to respect press freedom and immediately cease all efforts to curb the media. The policies announced by Major General Suwarya put journalists covering the conflict at grave risk.

We thank you for your attention to these urgent matters and await your response.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director