CPJ concerned for safety of kidnapped journalists

New York, October 7, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned about the safety of journalists Ersa Siregar and Ferry Santoro, who have been held hostage by rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (known by its Indonesian acronym GAM) for more than three months. Their current whereabouts are unknown, and Siregar is reportedly in poor health.

“We call on GAM leaders to release Siregar and Santoro immediately and without conditions,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “After three months, we have seen no progress in negotiations between GAM and the Indonesian government. Both sides must now act swiftly and decisively to ensure the hostages’ return to safety.”

On June 29, Siregar, a senior reporter for Indonesia’s privately owned RCTI television station, and Santoro, an RCTI cameraman, set out for a scheduled interview in the town of Lhokseumawe, in northern Aceh, but they never arrived. On July 3, Tengku Mansur, a spokesman for GAM in East Aceh, announced that GAM members were holding the journalists, their driver, and two civilians on suspicion that they were working with the Indonesian military (TNI).

The RCTI crew had been reporting on the military offensive in Indonesia’s northwestern Aceh Province, which was launched on May 19 to crush a long-running rebel insurgency. More than 1,200 people have been killed in the conflict during the last five months, according to press reports.

On July 6, military chief Endriartono Sutarto set a deadline of July 8 for GAM to release the hostages or else face military attack.

That same day, Imam Wahyudi, an editor at RCTI, and nine other journalists were allowed to meet with Siregar and reported that both journalists were in good health. After GAM failed to meet the July 8 deadline, military officials questioned Wahyudi and the other journalists who had met with Siregar about how they were able to contact GAM and locate their base.

In recent weeks, there has been little progress in the negotiations for the two journalists’ release. GAM commander Ishak Daud has said that Siregar is very ill and has been coughing up blood, according to an October 4 issue of the Jakarta Post.

Daud has declared that GAM will only release the hostages if TNI declares a seven-day cease-fire and if the military is not involved in the transfer, but TNI has rejected the demands. On October 4, a TNI spokesman proposed a battle-free zone to allow for the safe transfer of the hostages. However, local journalists believe GAM is unlikely to accept the proposal.