The declaration of martial law in Aceh in May 2003 allowed the military to impose harsh restrictions on the press and effectively silence journalists trying to cover the bloody war against the rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka - GAM). To be able to go to the theatre of operations, journalists with both Indonesian and international media had to form "pools" that were incorporated into army units. The few Aceh-based news media were closely watched. A biweekly was forced to close in December as a result of death threats against his editor from Indonesian officers.
Senior military officers again showed their intransigence and contempt for press freedom. The military did nothing to facilitate the efforts of those trying to obtain the release of Indonesian reporter Ersa Siregar, who was finally killed by army fire while still held by the GAM. In a report on Aceh entitled "Muzzling the Messengers," Human Rights Watch documented dozens of arrests, physical attacks and threats against journalists. As soon as fighting got under way, Gen. Endang Surawaya banned the news media from reporting what the rebels said.
The central government in Jakarta cautioned the media against any lack of nationalism and failure to support the security forces. But some Indonesian newspapers refused to overlook the military’s human rights violations. The army and the GAM were often seen as equally culpable. Some Indonesian media defended the idea of "journalism for peace" and a political solution. But the criticism of the "dirty war" in Aceh in publications such as Kompas and Tempo met with disapproval from both the authorities and other media, especially the broadcast media, which took a position of support for the war against the GAM "terrorists."
Dozens of local journalists were threatened in many other parts of the country especially the central province of Celebes, the eastern province of Papua and the eastern province of Moluccas, which was often hit by communal and sectarian strife. On the main island of Java, the pressure came equally from local politicians, businessmen and organised crime. The journalistic community is also deeply afflicted by corruption. The practice of giving journalists envelopes of money to cover a press conference or write a favourable article is very widespread.
The Indonesian press is on hard times. Hit by an economic crisis since the end of the 1990s, around 10 independent newspapers and magazines were forced to stop appearing in 2003 for lack of funds. The magazine Pantau, for example, which was well-known for its investigative journalism, closed down three years after its launch by the leading journalist Goenawan Mohammad. According to some figures, there were half the number of newspapers in 2003 as in 1998. On the other hand, privately-owned TV and radio stations continued to grow. Hundreds of community radio stations are now operating throughout the country. Some broadcast media are still controlled by associates of the former dictator, Gen. Suharto, including his daughter, who is entering politics.
With a dozen privately-owned local TV stations and several dozen radio networks across the country, the broadcast media have proved popular with Indonesians. But some owners say the broadcasting law adopted in 2002 could slow their expansion. It forces operators to increase the proportion of nationally-produced programmes and open the sector to new investors, and bans any one group from owning several TV channels. The purpose cited at the time was to rein in Suharto’s heirs who could otherwise, in the view of experts, succeed in getting round the new law’s constraints. The government made the state-owned TV channel TVRI independent in April 2003 and since then it has received almost no more state funding. In the following months, it stopped broadcasting in several provinces for lack of cash.
Since becoming president, Megawati Sukarnoputri has not always had cordial relations with the press. Accused by the media of displeasing the population with misguided decisions, the president has often responded by accusing journalists of lacking in professionalism and of being "biased and irresponsible." On the occasion of national press day on 9 January, held in Bali, she said the government was "very respectful of press freedom" but added that, "the responsibility of the national press rests in its ability to protect and promote national unity."
Reacting to the president’s repeated criticism, Press Council chairman Atmakusumah Astraatmadja spoke out in February in an attempt to end the pressure. He said relations between the press and the government were always one of "love-hate," but the authorities should refrain from make direct comments as that encouraged self-censorship. He also criticised the popular and satirical tabloids, especially the daily Rakyat Merdeka, which is very acerbic in its attacks on the president and the political class in general. Its editor was sentenced to six months in prison in October for libelling the president. This was the first time since the fall of the dictatorship in 1998 that a journalist was convicted of insulting the president.
The Indonesian journalists’ organisations were very active. In January, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) won a lawsuit against the Jakarta district authorities for harassment of reporter Edi Hariyadi since March 2002. Police had threatened Hariyadi with reprisals ever since he wrote a report in the newspaper Warta Kota about expulsions in the East Jakarta district. A court ordered police authorities, the provincial governor and the mayor of East Jakarta to publicly apologise to Hariyadi for harassing him. This verdict was the first of its kind in Indonesia’s judicial history. The AJI continued to campaign for an end to prison sentences for press offences. While the press law is liberal and article 28 of the constitution guarantees press freedom, the criminal code still contains articles that provide for prison sentences for "insulting" the president or "hostility" toward the government.
Two journalists killed
Mohamad Jamaluddin, a cameraman with the state-owned television channel TVRI, was found dead outside the village of Kreung Cut, near de Banda Aceh (the capital of Aceh province), on 17 June 2003. A police spokesman said his body was at the bottom of a river. Witnesses told the news agency Reuters that his eyes and mouth were covered with adhesive tape, his hands were tied with rope, and a slip-knot around his neck was tied to a stone.
Aged 30, Jamaluddin, had been kidnapped on 20 May, a few hours after the army began its offensive against the GAM rebels and martial law took effect in the province. No organisation claimed responsibility for his abduction and murder. On 20 June, Press Council chairman Atmakusumah Astraatmadja called on the police to carry out a thorough investigation: "Some say Mohamad Jamaluddin collected money for the rebels. Is this true? The police must answer these questions." A number of journalists working in Banda Aceh insisted that he was killed because he worked for TVRI.
The body of Ersa Siregar of the TV channel Rajawali Citra Televisi (RCTI) was found on 29 December after a clash between GAM rebels and government troops. Aged 52 and an RCTI employee since 1993, Siregar was captured by the rebels on 29 June along with his cameraman Fery Santoro and their driver in the district of Peureulak (in Aceh province). Their captors accused them of spying.
Many Indonesian journalists and human rights organisation campaigned for their release. Around 100 journalists demonstrated outside the ministry of foreign affairs and security in Jakarta on 4 November to demand that everything possible be done to have them freed. In December, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) asked the government to let a delegation of journalists and the International Committee of the Red Cross go to Aceh to finalise the release. The IFJ said the GAM had already agreed in principle. The captive TV crew’s driver meanwhile managed to escape at the start of December.
The day after Siregar’s body was found, the GAM accused the soldiers of deliberately shooting him. A rebel spokesman said: "The journalist was injured in the leg the day before and could no longer run to protect himself. He was shot at point-blank rage." A few hours later, the army accused the rebels of using Siregar as a human shield. On 31 December, the army chief of staff acknowledged that Siregar was killed by military gunfire. But he ruled out any question of an independent enquiry and implied that the international community should not meddle in an "internal matter."
New information on a journalist killed before 2003
The investigation into the August 1996 murder of journalist Fuad Muhammad Syafruddin in Bantul (near Yogyakarta in western Java) stalled again when the national police failed to ensure that one of its police officers, Edy Wuryanto, the main suspect, appeared before military investigators in February 2003. In response to this foot-dragging by the authorities, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the South-East Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) brought a lawsuit on 17 February against the national police and army before the South Jakarta district court demanding 1 billion rupees (100,000 euros) in damages for the family of Syafruddin (who was also known as Udin) and 318 million rupees (about 30,000 euros) to finance a new investigation. The court rejected the suit on 20 May on the grounds that there was no legal precedent.
Wuryanto’s trial before the Yogyakarta military court was finally supposed to begin on 4 June but he claimed that he had a prior professional obligation and did not appear. The start of the trial was delayed until the end of June. But he subsequently obtained a postponement on the grounds of an alleged procedural irregularity.
Syafruddin, a journalist with the local daily Bernas who was known for criticising the local authorities, was badly beaten in his home in Bantul by intruders on 13 August 1996 and died three days later from his injuries. Wuryanto was the police officer in charge of the team that investigated the murder. An individual by the name of Dwi Sumaji was tried for the murder, but was finally acquitted for lack of proof and Wuryanto’s team was suspected of using him as a scapegoat. Wuryanto was sentenced to 10 months in prison in August 2001 for tampering with a key piece of evidence: he took Syafruddin’s notebook from his house and then disposed of it.
A Dutch diplomat based in Jakarta told Agence France-Presse in September that the investigation into the September 1999 murder of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes in East Timor was still open but was blocked, although the Dutch authorities had submitted documents and evidence gathered by their own investigators in East Timor in 2002. "They have all our documents and those of the United Nations, but they say it is not enough to bring the case to trial," the diplomat said. Two Indonesian army officers are suspected of killing Thoenes on 21 September 1999 in Dili, a few days after he arrived to cover the withdrawal of Indonesian troops. The two officers, members of battalion 745, are also accused of 17 crime against humanity in the events of 1999. Thoenes was a correspondent for the Financial Times.
Three journalists kidnapped (see also "Journalists killed" above)
GAM rebels detained an Indonesian woman journalist during the week beginning 19 May 2003. The authorities did not identify her. She was released after convincing the rebels she did not belong to the group of journalists accredited by the Indonesian army.
Three journalists imprisoned
US freelance photoreporter William Nessen was arrested by police in Banda Aceh on 24 June and accused of "violating immigration laws" and "abusing his journalist’s visa," for which he faced up to five years in prison. He had been covering the army’s offensive from alongside the GAM rebels for The San Francisco Chronicle et The Sydney Morning Herald since the fighting began, although he had not been able to send any material in recent weeks because all means of communication were blocked by the army.
Alluding to Nessen, Gen. Endang Surawaya had said on 9 June that he could not guarantee the safety of foreign journalists in Aceh. The next day, government troops fired on the rebel group Nessen was travelling with, killing a young rebel who used to shoot footage with Nessen’s video-camera. The US embassy thereafter succeeded in negotiating Nessen’s exit from the combat zone with the Indonesian army.
On 23 July, a month after Nessen’s arrest, prosecutor Efdal Effendi opened the trial against him. Prosecution witnesses, including an immigration official, accused him of being in Aceh without a valid visa and of practising "illegal journalistic activities. On 30 July, the prosecutor requested a two-month prison sentence for failing to present his passport and visa to the appropriate authorities in Aceh and for not having a press card from the foreign ministry. He dropped charges that carried a five-year sentence. In his defence, Nessen said he lost his passport during fighting. He was released on 3 August after being sentenced to one month and 10 days in prison for breaking immigration laws. He had already served the sentence. He was then expelled from Indonesia and banned from returning for a year.
The Indonesian army arrested Japanese photographer Tadatomo Takagi on 26 June in Aceh province, where he was taking pictures without authorisation. He had photographed refugees in flight after a clash between soldiers and rebels. The Japanese embassy in Jakarta said Takagi was just an amateur photographer who did not know a state of emergency had been declared in the province.
A media contributor was released in 2003. British academic and writer Lesley McCulloch, who has contributed to several Australian and British publications, was released on 9 February after completing a five-month prison sentence in Banda Aceh. She immediately announced her intention of visiting various countries "to campaign about the situation in Aceh." She said she had been imprisoned because of her articles about corruption and human rights violations by the military in the province.
Two journalists detained
Shamsul Akmar and Abdul Razak of the Malaysian daily New Straits Times were detained by the military in the east of Aceh province on 7 June 2003. Although carrying press visas and authorisation from the military authorities, they were interrogated for 12 hours and then expelled to Kuala Lumpur.
At least 25 journalists physically attacked
Dudi Sugandi, a photographer with the local daily Pikiran Rakyat, was beaten by police during a local student protest against public service price increases on 25 February 2003 in Bandung (in western Java). He was injured in the head and right shoulder and his camera was confiscated. Some 70 journalists demonstrated outside police headquarters in Bandung in the days that followed, calling on the local police chief to apologise to all of the region’s media. Sugandi filed a complaint against his police assailants who, according to the newspaper’s lawyer, "violated the freedom of journalists to obtain information." After being identified by witnesses, three members of the Bandung police were charged with assault and faced up to five years in prison if convicted. The authorities did not release their names.
Agung Nugroho, a cameraman with the television channel SCTV, was attacked by a security guard at the Dharmawangsa Hotel in Jakarta on 15 April when he came to attend a conference organised by the Lippo Bank. The guard, identified as Amin, hit Nugroho on the left ear and snatched his accreditation card, thereby preventing him from entering the hotel. About a hundred other journalists gathered outside the building were also barred from the conference.
A vehicle of the independent television channel TV 7 came under fired from snipers on 21 May at Teupin Raya on the road linking Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, with the town of Lhokseumawe. Several shots grazed the vehicle but none of the TV crew members aboard, who included Rizal Wahyu and Yusrizal, were injured.
Wahyu Mulyono of TV7 was the target of snipers on the road from Sigli to Banda Aceh on 22 May. His vehicle was hit but he was not hurt. The next day, Wayan Astapala of the independent television channel RCTI came under fire while driving in a vehicle through the same zone.
Nani Farida of the Jakarta Post was the target of gunfire of unidentified origin on 24 May. The same day Rizal Wahyu and Yusrizal, who had already been targeted three days earlier, were again ambushed on their return from Lhokseumawe. One of the shots hit their vehicle’s front left fender.
In yet another attack on the road from Banda Aceh to Lhokseumawe, unidentified gunmen on 25 May fired on two vehicles carrying six journalists, including Time Magazine photographer Kemal Jufri, Time Magazine reporter Andrew Marshall and BBC contributor Orlando de Guzman. Later the same day, a vehicle carrying journalists with the Indonesian television channel Metro TV came under fire on the same road. The rear window and the driver’s door were hit.
On 25 May, gunmen in combat dress on a motorcycle fired at a crew with the television channel TV 7 who had stopped at the side of the road near Banda Aceh. The crew had gone there to film the gutted shells of trucks and a bus that were torched during the first days of the military offensive.
The vehicle of a journalist with the US news agency Associated Press came under fire on 27 May on the road from Banda Aceh to Lhokseumawe.
Peggy Sampouw of the daily Manado Post was hit in the face by an official in the courtyard of the town hall of Manado, in northeastern Celebes, in July. The local representative of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Remon Palsa, held mayor Wempie Fredrik responsible as the attack was reportedly linked to Sampouw’s possession of compromising information about the involvement of the mayor’s wife in wrangle concerning the public market.
Soldiers struck Alif Imam Nurlambang of the privately-owned radio station 68H several times in the back with the butts of their automatic weapons on 4 July in Panton Luas, a village in the south of Aceh province. One soldier threatened to kill him. Nurlambang had come to interview people about a recent exodus of the village’s inhabitants. Fearing for his safety, he left the province.
Edi Setiawan and Ashar Pungkas of the TV channel Indosiar were attacked in Medan on the northeastern island of Sumatra on 10 October while covering a police operation against criminals. Their camera and vehicle were damaged, Setiawan’s nose was broken, and Pungkas sustained a fracture to an arm.
At least three journalists threatened
Jacob Nuwa Wea, an influential member of President Megawati’s party, the PDI-P, threatened journalists from the daily Rakyat Merdeka during a party rally in Jakarta on 23 February 2003. If they persisted in insulting the party’s leaders, they would be dealt with by thousands of the party’s supporters, he warned.
A journalist with Nikoya FM in Banda Aceh received a death threat by telephone in mid-May from someone claiming to be a GAM commander who accused him or biased reporting.
Gen. Bambang Dharmono threatened Zainal Batri of the weekly Tempo on 18 May in Lhokseumawe in Aceh province because he covered a press conference by the chief of the GAM rebels and not a visit to Lhokseumawe by the army chief of staff. Known for his hostility toward the press, Gen. Dharmono had the day before ordered journalists to stay in Lhokseumawe to cover the chief of staff’s visit.
Harassment and obstruction
Radical Muslim groups issued a fatwa, or death sentence, on 6 January 2003 against Islamic scholar Ulil Abshar Abdalla for allegedly insulting Islam in an article in the newspaper Kompas. Abdalla’s article called for an interpretation of Islamic law according to each country’s culture rather than a strict application of the Koran based on Middle-Eastern customs. Issuing the fatwa, the Indonesian Forum of Islamic Clerics and Followers said the article would spread hate among Muslims. Adballa said he doubted that the Islamists would carry out their threat. Nonetheless, he thereafter travelled with a driver-bodyguard. This was not the first time that fundamentalists had objected to calls for a moderate Islam in the Indonesian media.
At a meeting at the information and telecommunications ministry on 8 January, President Megawati accused the national media of anti-government bias, especially in their coverage of the recent telephone and electricity price increases. She said the media’s coverage and criticism of the government had helped give it a bad image in the eyes of the Indonesian public.
Karim Paputungan, the editor of the daily Rakyat Merdeka (Free people), appeared in court in Jakarta on 7 March on a charge of libelling parliamentary speaker Akbar Tanjung, the leader of Golkar (Indonesia’s second largest party), in a January 2002 cartoon showing him shirtless, crippled and dripping with sweat when he was being investigated for embezzling public funds. Tanjung was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison in August 2002, but he appealed and did not resign as speaker. On 9 September 2003, Paputungan was sentenced to 10 months probation, with five months in prison if he broke the terms of his probation. His lawyer said this "verdict from another age" violated the right to caricature politicians.
More than 200 employees of businessman Tomy Winata and members of an organisation linked to President Megawati’s party, the PDI-P, stormed the headquarters of the weekly Tempo in Jakarta on 8 March and threatened to torch the building. The assault was in reaction to an article by Ahmad Taufik about Winata’s plan to rebuild a market for the exorbitant sum of 53 billion rupees (5 million euros). The market had been destroyed by fire and the article implied that Winata had been responsible. Winata’s supporters demanded that Tempo apologise for the "libel" and reveal its sources. Three journalists were attacked during the incident - Bambang Harymurti (the editor) and Karaniya Dharmasaputra, who were hit in the face, and Abdul Manan, who was badly hurt in the cheek. Witnesses said several police who were present made no attempt to restrain the assailants.
A long political and legal wrangle ensued. The police ordered an investigation on 12 March. Winata filed a lawsuit for libel. Four of Winata’s followers were interrogated on suspicion of attacking the journalists, but the only one arrested was David Tjioe, a Winata associate who was the attack’s alleged leader. The other three were released for lack of evidence. Journalists throughout the country demonstrated in support of Tempo. Harymurti, Tempo’s editor, was questioned as part of the libel investigation. He was charged under article 51 of the press law and articles 310 and 311 of the criminal code, under which he faced a possible sentence of four years in prison. Taufik, the journalist who wrote the article, was interrogated for 11 hours and then charged with libel and violation of the press law on 5 April. Tempo’s journalists meanwhile refused to apologise and continued to protect their sources.
During the week beginning 7 April, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) filed a complaint against the Jakarta police for failure to prevent the attack on Tempo. The Jakarta court on 6 October order the police chief to apologise to Tempo and the AJI for not intervening during the attack. The trial of those suspected in the attack began in Jakarta on 16 April. The prosecution requested acquittal on 30 June. The public prosecutor said he was unable to determine with certainty whether it was "it was the right hand or the left hand that David Tjioe raised against Tempo’s editor in chief."
One of the defendants, Hidayat Lukman, was convicted and sentenced on 10 July to five months in prison and a suspended sentence of 10 months. But he did not go to prison. The same day, the court acquitted Tjioe, the alleged leader of the 8 March attack. On 25 September, a judge ordered the seizure of the premises of Koran Tempo (another newspaper of the same group as Tempo) and the seizure of property owned by Goenawan Mohammad, one of Tempo’s co-founders, who had called Winata a "hoodlum" after the attack. Mohammad’s lawyer called the court orders a danger to press freedom and pointed out that confiscation of property was only allowed in commercial disputes. The US ambassador paid a "solidarity" visit to Tempo on 2 October. In a court appearance in his libel suit on 28 October, Winata insisted all the accusations against him were false.
President Megawati announced on 22 March that she intended to prosecute the tabloid daily Rakyat Merdeka (Free People), which had criticised her government’s fuel and electricity price increases in January. The newspaper had described her as even crueler than Sumanto, a famous cannibal on the island of Java. The newspaper’s editor, Supratman (who like many Indonesians, uses only one name), appeared in court in Jakarta on 3 June on a charge of insulting the head of state. On 27 October, the judge sentenced him under article 137 of the criminal code to one year of probation and a prison term of six months that he would serve only if he committed another offence during the probationary period.
Three journalists in the city of Kendari (in the southeast of Celebes island) were summoned by the local police at the end of March as witnesses to a case of defamation. They had attended a press conference given on 24 March by a group called the Council of Popular Aspiration (MARA) at which its leader, Hidayatullah, had accused local police chief H. Tengku Ashikin Husein of corruption. In response to the police chief’s complaint, the police summoned everyone who attended the press conference.
The head of the Indonesian armed forces staff command college, Lt. Gen. Djaja Suparman, asked the Jakarta Press Council on 27 March to sanction six Indonesian dailies for libelling him. The six dailies - the Jakarta Post, Jawa Pos, Bali Pos, Rakyat Mereka, Pelita and Sumatra Ekspres - ran stories that suggested he was involved in the October 2002 Bali bombing that left 202 people dead. Suparman has never been formally charged with involvement. The Press Council was supposed to determine whether the newspapers’ allegations against Suparman conformed to the press code of ethics. It had not issued any opinion by the end of the year.
The Indonesian army announced restrictions on the press in Aceh province on 21 May, two days after martial law was declared there. Gen. Endang Suwarya, the officer in charge of implementing martial law, banned journalists from quoting statements by the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM). He said Indonesia’s interests must be paramount in all press coverage: "I demand that all news reports support the nationalist spirit. The interests of the unitary state must come first. No credibility should be accorded to the GAM’s statements, which constantly twist the facts."
News organisation immediately began being harassed. Soldiers threatened reporters from the independent television station MetroTV with expulsion from the province for filming people with GAM logos on their clothes who were helping to put out a fire at a school. The daily newspaper Serambi Indonesia received a strong reprimand for an alleged bias in favour of the separatists in its coverage of the fighting.
Following the example of the US forces in Iraq, Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin arranged for 54 Indonesian journalists to be embedded with Indonesian units. The journalists were trained in survival techniques for a hostile environment. Human Rights Watch quoted one of them as saying the military stressed to them during this training: "We are a nation, we must not let Aceh escape us and journalists must appreciate the importance of Indonesia’s unity." Once in the field, embedded journalists were hard put to interview civilians, who were frightened by the soldiers they were with.
The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) immediately cautioned these journalists about they risks they were running. It advised them to refrain from wearing battle dress to avoid be targeted by the rebels during clashes. It also urged them to wear a sign saying "Press" on their clothes. In an open letter to the AJI, a GAM spokesman said: "Journalists working with the army will be viewed as journalists who do not understand press freedom. We cannot guarantee this group’s security."
Beginning on 21 May, the security forces in Aceh province arrested, interrogated and threatened local journalists and foreign correspondents who reported abuses by police and military participating in the offensive. The sources of some journalists were also reportedly arrested and harassed. In response to reports in the international press about massacres by government troops and in order to avoid any "internationalisation" of the conflict, the armed forces stipulated on 25 May that journalist covering the fighting were henceforth under military orders. Military special forces also tried to discredit or endanger journalists by going around in vehicles marked "Press." Andrew Marshall, a reporter with Time Magazine, said soldiers abused the "Press" identification to undermine the status of journalists as non-combatants and to put them in the sights of the GAM and the army. It worked, he said, because in the first week of fighting, at least seven press vehicles came under fire.
The state-owned radio service RRI’s relay antenna in Aceh Besar (in Indrapuri district, 25 km north of Banda Aceh) was the target of an arson attack on 21 May. It was repaired the next morning.
Two radio stations in Aceh province received threats of unidentified origin on 24 May.
Irked by "provocative" coverage of the military offensive in Aceh in the local and international press, many parliamentarians called on the government on 26 May to step up control of the media in Aceh. The parliamentarians were particularly annoyed that journalists were referring to a "military offensive" rather than an "operation to restore security. They also criticised a TV report that showed soldiers dragging a body.
Their request was rejected by communications and information minister Syamsul Mu’arif, who said the government would impose no restrictions on the media. Nonetheless, he pointed out that the government could require journalists to provide more information about the government’s policies in the province rather than continue writing pro-GAM articles. Armed forces commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto announced the same day that he would prosecute news media that reported inaccuracies. He also called on the media, in the name of nationalism, to sacrifice the principle of objective coverage and the inclusion of the views of both parties to the conflict.
Also on 26 May, five journalists with the daily Koran Tempo were interrogated until late into the night by the military in Lhokseumawe (in Aceh province) about an article linking the armed forces to attacks against civilians.
The communications and information minister on 29 May urged journalists to practice "patriotic journalism" by granting no space in the news media to the rebel separatists. He also deplored the negative image of the offensive so far given by foreign journalists.
At the end of May, Gen. Bambang Dharmono criticised the journalists of the independent television channel Metro TV, which had just shown footage of a man in a GAM T-shirt helping to put out a fire at a school. As a result of this pressure, the TV channel the next day carried a report about soldiers teaching children in Aceh.
An anti-pornography group held demonstrations outside the offices of the television stations SCTV and Trans TV in May to protest against their showing Inul Daratista, a singer of dangdut, an Indonesian version of salsa that is very popular with middle-class Muslims. The protesters said Daratista’s dancing was pornographic and urged the government and parliament to pass an anti-pornography law.
Army spokesman Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsueddin announced on 3 June that the army was going to sue the daily Koran Tempo for publishing an "inaccurate" report about the murder of 10 civilians during the first week of the military offensive in Aceh. Agence France-Presse also faced the possibility of being sued as it was the source used by Koran Tempo in its article.
Gen. Endang Suwarya, the officer in charge of enforcing martial law in Aceh province, rejected the visa requests of 10 foreign journalists wanting to cover the fighting on 3 June. He had nonetheless met with foreign news media representatives in Jakarta the week before in an attempt to reach an agreement about coverage of the fighting. The European parliament passed a resolution on 5 June calling on the Indonesian authorities and the GAM to restore "free access" to Aceh for journalists.
Some 20 members of the nationalist group Pemuda Panca Marga (PPM) demonstrated outside the offices of the weekly Tempo on 4 June to protest against an article about a PPM attack on 27 May on the headquarters of the Commission for Disappeared Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), which was calling for peace in Aceh. Several Kontras activists were injured in the PPM attack. The PPM also brought a libel suit against Tempo over the report, which referred to the PPM as a "gang" that "lacks dignity." The demonstrators outside Tempo’s offices said they wanted to exercise their right of response.
Businessman Tomy Winata brought a libel suit against Ahmad Taufik of Tempo on 5 June, demanding more than 10 million euros in damages because of an article in which Taufik said Winata owned casinos.
Dandhy Dwi Laksono of the independent television channel SCTV was fired on 13 June as a result of pressure from the army, which objected to a report on 21 May about an Aceh resident who was tortured during the 1990s. Laksono told Human Rights Watch that his editors had made no attempt to resists the army’s pressure and had described him as an "anti-military journalist."
On 16 June, President Megawati approved presidential decree No. 43/2000 restricting foreign and national press access to Aceh province. Article 3 of the decree said the activities of foreign media journalists in the province were subject to prior authorisation from the foreign ministry. The Indonesian press had to obtain written approval from the authorities in charge of implementing the martial law. In a follow-up to the decree, the foreign ministry on 24 June issued guidelines for the procedure to follow to get permission within three days. The ministry asked the foreign media to specify the names of the journalists and the exact dates of the visit to Aceh. The central government noted that the military reserved the right to refuse permission.
The military authorities in Banda Aceh issued their own rules on 26 June. Journalists and humanitarian workers could not visit Aceh for the purposes of tourism. They had to enter the province via the capital, Banda Aceh, and to register on the day of their arrival with the military authorities. If they violated any of these rules, journalists were to be expelled within 24 hours. As a follow-up, the justice ministry issued a decree on 30 June establishing an "internal visa" system for visitors to Aceh. Foreigners, especially journalists, had to obtain a recommendation signed by the foreign minister. As the minister was often absent, it took longer and longer to get an internal visa for Aceh.
The army spokesman in Banda Aceh announced on 23 June that the foreign ministry had given orders for all foreign and national journalists working for international news media to leave Aceh province. Col. Ditya Sudarsono told the press that this was to ensure journalists’ safety and not to obstruct their work. A few days before, Jeong Moon-tae, a correspondent with the South Korean magazine Hankyoreh21, and Reuters photographer Tarmizy Harva had left the province as a result of pressure from the military.
The military authorities on 24 June banned journalists from going to the place where US journalist William Nessen gave himself up to the authorities. Gen. Bambang Dharmono granted exclusive coverage to the independent television channel SCTV. Two days later, journalists boycotted a press conference given by the army commander in Lhokseumawe (in the east of Aceh province).
The GAM’s military leadership said in a press release on 3 July that the rebels protected journalists’ freedom of movement in Aceh as long as they respected the profession’s ethical codes when carrying out their work. The GAM did not specify what sanctions would be applied to journalists who did not respect the rules. An Indonesian journalist told Human Rights Watch in July that he often received intimidating text messages by telephone from the GAM when, for example, he wrote a report without verifying it with the rebels.
On 17 July near Banda Aceh, gunmen intercepted and burned a truck that was part of the fleet that delivers the only local daily, Serambi Indonesia. It contained no copies of the newspaper at the time. Five gunmen staged a similar attack on the road between Banda Aceh and Medan on 23 July. This time, the targeted vehicle contained 10,000 copies. Some local observers accused the GAM of wanting to punish the newspaper because, in the eyes of the rebels, it did not give enough support to the independence cause. Serambi Indonesia had not published any GAM statement since martial law was introduced in Aceh. Since its launch in 1989, the daily has had a total of 10 delivery trucks destroyed by gunmen.
Vice-president Hamzah Haz on 12 August ordered the ministry for religious affairs to close down television stations broadcasting "pornographic" programmes.
The trial of the editors of the weekly Tempo and the daily Suara Karya on charges of libel opened on 20 August. The newspapers had suggested that members of the army’s special forces unit, the Kopassus, were responsible for the death of two Americans and an Indonesian employed by the mining company Freeport in the eastern province of Papua. They were gunned down by armed men who were clearly well equipped and trained.
A watchdog group, Aceh News Watch, released the findings of its monitoring of Indonesian news media coverage of the war in Aceh at the end of August. In most cases, the main television stations and newspapers used the version and the information provided by the government forces. They took information given by an army spokesmen in more than 150 cases, while rebel sources were only used on 16 occasions.
Investment Coordinating Board chairman Theo Toemion accused the media at the start of October of scaring investors away by giving Indonesia a negative image.
The daily Limboto Express was the target of a campaign of intimidation after it ran an article criticising the governor of the north-eastern province of Gorontalo, Fadel Muhammad. A demonstration was held outside the newspaper’s headquarters. The governor demanded a public apology and threatened a lawsuit.
A senior police officer, Gen. Ansyaad Mbai, accused the press in mid-October of giving too much "visibility"to Indonesia’s Islamist activists. By too readily letting themselves serve as a mouthpiece for the Islamists, the news media were responsible for the country’s vulnerability to terrorism, he said.
An Aceh-based independent biweekly, Beudoh, was forced it to suspend publishing in early December as a result of military harassment. The newspaper’s editor, known simply as Maarif, went into hiding after being interrogated for 10 hours by military intelligence officers. He told the Associated Press they roughed him up and threatened to kill him if he did not change the newspaper’s editorial line. He also refused to comply with their insistence that he publish an apology and sign a letter recognising that he had put out false information. One of the articles they criticised, which had appeared at the end of November, had been headlined "The Acehnese people do not need elections." In it, the newspaper criticized the government’s decision to maintain martial law in Aceh and questioned the legitimacy of elections scheduled for 2004.
According to the Jakarta Post, the military authorities denied banning the newspaper and said they just summoned the editor to explain to him that its articles were "provocative."
A Jakarta court on 30 December sentenced the daily Koran Tempo to publish apologies in the press and on television for three days for allegedly libelling the Indonesian textile group Texmaco. The judge said its articles were "tendentious and provocative, and tarnished the image of Mr. Sinivasa who is a respected businessman." The newspaper had carried articles from January to April 2003 about economic reverses sustained by Texmaco, Indonesia’s biggest garment manufacturer. But the court rejected Texmaco’s demand for 50 million euros in damages. The newspaper’s lawyers noted that Texmaco had not demanded the right of response as allowed by the press law. A court in November ruled in favour of Tempo, a magazine in the same press group, in another lawsuit brought by Texmaco in which the owner, Sinivasa, demanded 100 million euros in damages.