Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF) protested to the Indonesian government today against its refusal to grant a work permit to Australian journalist Lindsay Murdoch, calling it an illegal attempt to stifle reporting on human rights. "This is a blatant violation of the 1999 press law that protects Indonesian and foreign journalists against censorship and being banned," RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Indonesian foreign minister Nur Hassan Wirajuda.
He urged the government to reverse its decision, which he said was "a shocking and authoritarian" attempt "almost certainly" aimed at punishing Murdoch for articles on human rights in Indonesia he had written in the Australian daily papers The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.
The two papers announced on 17 March that Murdoch’s journalist visa was not being renewed by the Indonesian authorities and that he had not been able to work for the papers since 10 March, when his old one expired.
An Indonesian foreign ministry official, quoted by the French news agency AFP, said the newspapers had been told three months ago that they should appoint a new correspondent because Murdoch’s journalist visa would not be renewed. "We have given him a business visa, which allows him to enter the country but not to work as a journalist," said the official, who refused to explain why.
Murdoch said the decision was connected with two articles he had written about human rights that reportedly angered senior Indonesian army leaders. The first one reported that Indonesian officials were refusing to allow parents from Timor to recuperate their children who had been placed in orphanages in Java. The second was an investigation of the death of a four-month-old baby from Aceh after soldiers had thrown boiling water at the child.
Murdoch, 48, has been working as a journalist in Indonesia for the past three years. He is known for her reports on East Timor and has won several prizes. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Jakarta attacked the visa decision as being contrary to the government’s promises not to curb freedom of expression. The Sydney Morning Herald gives plenty of coverage to the situation in neighbouring Indonesia. In 1986, its investigation into corruption involving President Suharto led to all Australian journalists being banned.
The present incident is the first time since the Suharto regime fell that a resident foreign correspondent has been banned from working. Hundreds of foreign journalists cover Southeast Asia from Jakarta. However, several have been arrested or deported in recent years, especially after reporting on the situation in the province of Irian Jaya. In December 2000, Oswald Iten, a reporter for the Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung, was arrested in Jayapura (Irian Jaya). He was freed 11 days later and deported.