The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned by the continuing efforts by Indonesian authorities to sharply restrict reporting by journalists attempting to cover the military operations in the restive Indonesian province of Aceh. The latest evidence of such efforts is the series of restrictive new rules, announced yesterday, which will prohibit independent reporting from the region.
On June 26, martial law authorities in Aceh issued new orders that restrict the movements of foreign journalists and local Indonesian reporters working for foreign media, forcing them to stay in cities or larger towns unless accompanied by a military escort, according to news reports. Foreign correspondents in Aceh are now required to report their movements to military commanders in every place they report from. Violators of these new laws will be prosecuted and banned from reporting from the province, according to The Associated Press (AP).
Foreign reporters applying for permission to travel to Aceh already face daunting bureaucratic hurdles even before they reach the province. According to a letter from the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents' Club (JFCC) to Indonesia's security and foreign ministers, current guidelines require foreign reporters to have as many as five separate credentials to report legally from the region. Other documentation requirements include a letter of recommendation from the Foreign Ministry. Furthermore, JFCC members said that they have been kept waiting two weeks for the necessary documentation.
New restrictions also apply to local media in Aceh, said the JFCC. Indonesians are now forbidden from working for foreign media without obtaining Foreign Ministry permits, and local reporters are forbidden from sharing video footage with foreign media. If they violate the restrictions, the military can evict them from Aceh.
These restrictions on the media are blatant violations of international press freedom norms, which give journalists the right to freely gather and disseminate news without threat of reprisal. In an interview this week with the El Shinta radio station, Indonesian military spokesman Col. Ditya Sudarsono claimed that the new restrictions were designed to protect journalists. On the contrary, they appear clearly designed to block journalists' access to military operations in Aceh, thus preventing them from reporting on events of vital interest to residents of region and the rest of Indonesia. Such a news blackout can only contribute to fear, rumors, and apprehension among people directly affected by the conflict.
In a separate action, CPJ is also concerned about Japanese photographer Takagi Tadatomo, who was detained on June 26, north of Aceh. According to the AP, Tadatomo was arrested for not carrying proper accreditation; this action appears to be part of the effort to block access to the current events in Aceh. In addition, we remain troubled by the detention of free-lance photojournalist William Nessen, who was arrested when he surrendered to the Indonesian military earlier this week.
As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ calls on you, Your Excellency, to release Tadatomo and Nessen immediately and to lift these onerous restrictions on the press. These restrictions raise serious questions about the Indonesian government's commitment to press freedom. The free flow of information is critical to a healthy democracy, and in times of conflict, it is crucial that citizens have full access to information about events that affect their lives and security.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.