Gunmen seize Indonesian TV journalists

New York, February 18, 2005—Two Indonesian television journalists and their driver were seized by Iraqi gunmen in the city of Ramadi this week, an Indonesian government spokesman told reporters today.

Reporter Meutya Hafid and a cameraman identified as Budiyanto, who work for Indonesia’s 24-hour news channel Metro TV, went missing on Tuesday while driving from Amman, Jordan. The journalists had gone to Iraq to cover this week’s observance of Ashura, one of the most important religious events for Shiites, according to station officials.

“We have received information … from the owner of a car rented by two journalists from Metro TV that, on February 15, their vehicle heading for Ramadi was halted by an armed group,” Marty Natalegawa, a spokesman for the Indonesian foreign ministry, told reporters, according to Reuters.

“The car, driver and the two journalists have been taken to an unknown location,” Natalegawa said, while noting that the government had not yet officially classified the seizure of the two journalists as an abduction. He said witnesses reported seeing the journalists’ car entering Ramadi and that “it was stopped and taken away.”

At least 23 other journalists have been kidnapped by armed groups in Iraq since April 2004, when insurgents began targeting foreigners for abduction. The most recent was Feb. 4 when gunmen seized Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, a reporter for the Rome-based daily Il Manifesto, near Baghdad University. On Wednesday, her kidnappers released a video showing her pleading for her life and calling on U.S. and coalition troops to leave Iraq.