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For Immediate Release:
August 7, 1996

Vikram Parekh
(212) 465-1004, x109

CPJ Says Barriers to Free Expression Underlie Unrest in Indonesia

Journalists' Group Denounces Government Censorship of Crackdown

NEW YORK--The storming of opposition party headquarters in Jakarta by Indonesian troops and the riots that engulfed the city last week reflect mounting opposition to the lack of freedom of expression in Indonesia, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement released today.

"The uprisings have occurred precisely because there is no other outlet in Indonesia for political criticism or independent analysis," said CPJ's Executive Director, William A. Orme, Jr. "Even factual reporting has been constrained by a series of media bans and jailings of journalists over the past two years," he added.

Authorities have pressured Indonesian journalists into reporting favorably on a recent crackdown that ended a month-long standoff between the government and supporters of Megawati Sukarnoputri, the former leader of the Indonesian Democratic party (PDI) who was ousted at the government’s behest in June. The measures cited by CPJ today include assaults on journalists, seizure of their materials, and warnings to newspaper editors.

A blockade prevented journalists from covering the July 27 government seizure of the PDI headquarters in Jakarta, which had been occupied by Megawati supporters. According to local sources, soldiers seized video footage belonging to Associated Press Television and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In addition, two local journalists covering the crackdown sustained beatings. Cecek Sutriatna Sukmadipraja, a photographer for the Muslim magazine Ummat, was assaulted by soldiers for refusing to turn over his film. Despite having shown the soldiers his press credentials, Sukmadipraja was kicked in the groin and beaten with rattan, wood, and metal objects until he collapsed. A colleague took him to the intensive care unit of a local hospital, where he was given a blood transfusion and stitches for neck and back wounds. Kemal Jufri, a free-lance photographer who strings for Hong Kong-based Asiaweek, was hit on the head by a soldier while attempting to photograph the beating of a civilian. Jufri's camera was smashed and thrown into a sewage canal.

Soldiers also attacked journalists covering a July 28 protest by PDI supporters in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, located 800 km east of Jakarta. Subechi, a reporter for the daily Surabaya Post, and Adi Sutrawijono, a photographer for the daily newspaper Surya, were detained at the army district command. Although Subechi and Sutrawijono identified themselves as journalists, they were beaten and kicked for three hours along with ten protesters. They were released when two officers determined that they were in fact journalists, giving them Rp 50,000 (about US$20) as "uang damai," an Indonesian gesture of resolution. The local commander then added Rp 20,000 to the amount, which the journalists planned to return to the East Java military commander.

Since June, senior Indonesian army officers have delivered explicit warnings to the local press about reporting on the conflict with Megawati loyalists. Lt. Gen. Syarwan Hamid, the head of the socio-political section of the military general staff, summoned Jakarta-based editors and bureau chiefs to a meeting on July 28, where he advised them to support the government's stance. According to local sources, warnings have been issued to two leading dailies--Kompas and Merdeka--for their critical coverage of the crackdown.

The latest assaults on the press follow a broader crackdown that began with the June 1994 banning of three leading weeklies, which ended a four-year long policy of keterbukaan, or "openness." The banned publications included the country's largest circulation newsmagazine, Tempo, and two daring tabloids, DeTik and Editor. All three had received warnings from the Information Ministry in the months prior to their banning for aggressively reporting on a banking scandal, separatist wars in Aceh and East Timor, and the government's controversial purchase of 39 aging East German warships. The government subsequently targeted underground journals, which had proliferated in the wake of the press bans. Three journalists were jailed in 1995 for publishing unlicensed news magazines that criticized the government. Among them was Ahmad Taufik, the president of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia's only independent journalists union.


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