IFJ Demands Indonesian Government Remove Blocks to Allow Release of Journalists Held Hostage in Aceh, Indonesia

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, today demanded the Government of Indonesia remove obstacles to allow the release of journalists Ersa Siregar and Fery Santoro who are being held hostage in Aceh by the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Journalist Ersa and cameraman Fery were abducted while on assignment in Langsa in Aceh, Indonesia, six months ago on 29 June 2003.

Despite representations by international human rights organisations and an agreement with GAM to release the journalists, the obstacles have still not been removed.

“The Government’s delay in facilitating these journalists’ release is inexcusable and inexplicable,” said the IFJ President, Christopher Warren, in a letter to the President of Indonesia delivered today.

The representatives of the IFJ today will seek to meet with the Indonesian Government in Jakarta, and representatives of the Indonesian Government in Canberra, Manila, Brussels, Washington, the Hague and London to deliver the message that the Government of Indonesia must do all that is necessary to ensure the release of the journalists.

The IFJ will be delivering to the Indonesian Embassies copies of a letter from the IFJ President to the President of Indonesia, demanding that the Government of Indonesia direct the Indonesian Military (TNI) to allow the IFJ and the International Red Cross free movement in Aceh so that they may safely receive the two journalists from the GAM.

The IFJ gained agreement from the GAM to hand over the journalists on 19 August 2003. However the journalists are still being held captive because the TNI will not allow the free movement of human rights organisations in the province to secure the release of the two journalists.

“The Government of Indonesia must immediately act to allow the release of these journalists,’ the IFJ said today.

“The Government can no longer hide behind the idea that these journalists are being held hostage by the GAM. In truth, it is the lack of action from the Indonesian Government which is stalling these journalists from returning home,” Warren said today.

“These journalists would not have to stay hostage one single day more, if the Government of Indonesia would act today to allow the free movement in Aceh of human rights organisations to securely receive the journalists from the GAM,” the IFJ President said.

The IFJ has again written to GAM to hasten the release of the journalists.

The IFJ has also written to the UN, UNESCO and the International Committee of the Red Cross calling on international action to highlight the plight of the two journalists.

As background, the Indonesian Government implemented a military state of emergency in Aceh and the TNI declared war on the separatist GAM on 19 May 2003, following the failure of peace talks in Tokyo between the Government of Indonesia and the GAM.

The IFJ has found that there are several areas of concern for journalists and press freedom surrounding the conflict. These fall into three broad categories:

  • Restrictions on coverage of the conflict;

  • Increasing violence against media outlets and journalists; and

  • ‘Embedding’ of journalists.

    There has been a sharp increase in attacks and violence against the media since the start of the war in Aceh.

    Since the beginning of the conflict on 19 May, there have been serious restrictions placed on journalists covering the war in Aceh. These include the prohibition by the Indonesian military on reporting statements from the GAM.

    GAM has used this restriction on reporting their comments to justify an increase in intimidation of and attacks against journalists.

    Further information is available on theIFJ Asia website

    For further information contact IFJ President Christopher Warren on +61 411 757 668.