Santoro was taken hostage by the Free Aceh Movement (known by its Indonesian acronym, GAM) in June 2003 along with RCTI senior reporter Ersa Siregar, their driver, and two Indonesian officers’ wives. The kidnapping occurred after a massive Indonesian military offensive was launched in the war-torn northwest Aceh Province on May 19 to crush the long-running GAM separatist insurgency there.
Following the journalists’ capture, the military and GAM made several attempts to negotiate a release, without success. The journalists’ driver escaped captivity in early December 2003, and the two wives were freed in February. Siregar was shot and killed during a gun battle between Indonesian military forces and the rebels on December 29, 2003.
According to local and international news coverage, Santoro was released on Sunday and handed over to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Lhok Juoh area of eastern Aceh. At least 26 other civilian hostages were also freed over the weekend. Their releases were negotiated during several days of talks between military and GAM representatives, as well as representatives of RCTI and the International and Indonesian Red Cross.
Santoro is currently undergoing a medical examination at a hospital in Langsa, a town in eastern Aceh.
"We welcome the release of our colleague Fery Santoro," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "CPJ calls on both sides of the Aceh conflict to ensure that journalists can carry out the necessary work of reporting on the region."
Another journalist who was traveling with GAM last year, U.S. freelance reporter William Nessen, was released into military custody only to be detained for questioning for another month before being deported. The Indonesian military has not indicated whether it will detain Santoro after he is released from the hospital.
Several journalists who stayed with GAM during Santoro’s release over the weekend have all returned to Langsa today.
In an alert distributed on May 17, 2004, the CPJ incorrectly stated that U.S. freelance journalist William Nessen had been held by the Free Aceh Movement group GAM in Indonesia’s Aceh Province last year. Nessen was traveling voluntarily with members of GAM in May 2003 when the Indonesian military offensive started.
CPJ regrets the error.