Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Indonesia
As of December 31, 1998

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After 32 years of autocratic rule, President Suharto, a perennial among CPJ's annual 10 worst Enemies of the Press, resigned on May 21, driven from power by an economic meltdown, enraged students, and widespread rioting. Suharto's sudden departure triggered a wave of cries for "reformasi," or political reform, that swept aside most restrictions on the press and led to a sudden blossoming of the media in a country that has rarely experienced unbridled free expression.

Within days of Suharto's exit, new publications were springing to life and journalists were free to say virtually anything without fear of official harassment. Despite the ongoing economic crisis, news vendors clogged streets, feeding a public clamor for information and opinion about the unfolding political drama that had overtaken the country.

But the Suharto system has not yet changed. His resignation left in place not only Suharto's hand-picked deputy and best friend, Bacharuddin Jusuf (B. J.) Habibie, to lead the nation, but also virtually the entire governmental superstructure of privilege, control, and cronyism that had kept Suharto in power.

Although the media have been operating freely, restrictive Suharto-era statutes remain on the books. Still, Habibie amnestied most political prisoners, including Andi Syahputra, a member of the Alliance of Independent Journalists who was imprisoned in 1996 for insulting Suharto in print.

The clearest sign of the new freedom came in October when the government allowed Tempo, once Indonesia's premier weekly magazine, to reopen. The Suharto regime had closed Tempo in 1994. Goenawan Mohamad, Tempo's founder and chief editor, reassembled a staff of veteran reporters, found the financing, and took the plunge after deciding that Habibie's government was serious about political reform. Sales have exceeded expectations and the  Tempo group may soon expand into other media. Goenawan, a recipient of CPJ's 1998 International Press Freedom Award, said shortly before the relaunch of the magazine, "The best thing the press can contribute is to develop a culture of transparency and accountability in the government. We hope Tempo will become a place that will help defend and expand our freedoms."

Lt. Gen. Mohamad Yunus, appointed by Habibie as Information Minister, has spearheaded press freedom reforms. He has eliminated the requirement that radio and television outlets broadcast hourly government-prepared news bulletins, lifted censorship of foreign publications sold in Indonesia, and ended mandatory membership in the state-sanctioned journalists union. In August, Yunus told a CPJ representative during a meeting in his Jakarta office, "This is my basic point: The people should be the ones to decide. They need information. The more, the better." Despite his reformist agenda, Yunus has also had to spend his time in office denying Australian newspaper reports alleging that he was in command of troops who murdered five Australia-based reporters in the East Timor town of Balibo in 1975. The sporadic fits of rioting and violent unrest that continued to sweep the country after Suharto's resignation left journalists vulnerable to physical danger. In November, three journalists were badly beaten in Jakarta during student demonstrations, leading to calls for the military to respect the rights of the working press.
Attacks on the Press in Indonesia in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
11/11/98 Saptono, Antara News Agency Attacked
11/11/98 Eddi Hasby, Kompas Attacked
11/11/98 Tatan Agus, Gatra Magazine Attacked
11/11/98 Bambang Wisudo, Kompas Attacked
11/10/98 John Stackhouse, Toronto Globe and Mail Expelled
09/30/98 Rudy Goenawan, Jakarta-Jakarta Magazine Legal Action
05/16/98 Sayuti, Media Indonesia Attacked
05/16/98 Tutang Muchtar, Sinar Attacked
05/16/98 Riyanto Oemar, Republika Attacked
05/16/98 Ika Rais, Pikiran Rakyat Attacked
05/16/98 AR Rochim, Aksi Attacked
05/16/98 Hermansyah Pani, Surya Threatened, Harassed
05/16/98 Munawar Mandailing, Antara national news agency Attacked
05/16/98 Hindayoen Nts, Kompas Attacked
05/16/98 Edi Romadhon, Kedaulatan Rakyat Attacked
05/16/98 Yuyung Abdi, Jawa Pos Attacked
05/14/98 All television stations and journalists Censored
05/09/98 Paul Watson, Toronto Star Expelled
04/17/98 All journalists Threatened, Harassed, Censored
03/18/98 Allan Nairn, free-lancer Expelled
03/10/98 Ging Ginanjar, SBS Radio Imprisoned
03/10/98 Adi Hermawan, Merdeka Imprisoned
03/06/98 Margiono, D&R Magazine Threatened, Legal Action
03/06/98 D&R Magazine Threatened
03/06/98 Stephanie Vaesson, NOS Legal Action, Expelled
03/06/98 William Cooper, WTN Harassed
03/06/98 Gaap Leemeier, NOS Harassed
03/06/98 Indonesian media worker Harassed
03/06/98 Indonesian media worker Harassed

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