IFJ Warns Of “Cruel Deception” If Indonesian Hostage Deal Breaks Down

The International Federation of Journalists today made a final appeal to the leaders of armed separatists in Indonesia to make good on a promise to release hostages, including a journalist, as last-minutes obstacles threatened plans to free up to 100 captives.

In a letter sent today to Hasan di Tiro, the President of the Sumatra National Liberation Front (GAM), the IFJ said any failure by GAM to deliver on a promise to free Fery Santoro, a broadcast journalist held for 10 months, would be “a cruel deception” that would expose GAM to criticism within the international community.

“The journalists of Indonesia and around the world have taken seriously GAM’s word to release the hostages as evidence of its commitment to democracy and human rights,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary in the letter to GAM leaders in exile in Stockholm. “However, any further delay over releasing Fery Santoro and other hostages would be seen as an unacceptable breach of good faith.”

The IFJ has urged all sides, including Indonesian army commanders to respect arrangements made with the Red Cross for the safe handover of hostages. Leaders of the IFJ affiliate in Indonesia, the Alliance of Independent Journalists, travelled to the forest region of Aceh in northern Sumatra yesterday to help the release process.

“Our colleagues have closely monitored the responses of the army and we have obtained promises of safe passage”. “The army has confirmed that these orders will be followed by local commanders,” said White who talked with Red Cross officials, Indonesian army commanders and the local GAM commander during a visit to Jakarta last week.

The IFJ is urging GAM to act in the next 24 hours to fulfill the promise that it made to journalists a week ago that Fery would be freed yesterday. “We are already behind schedule. Now a great community of journalists, anxious families and human rights defenders are waiting to see if GAM has the courage to bring this ordeal to a swift and safe conclusion,” said White.

The IFJ acted after reports from Aceh that plans for the handover had fallen through because of GAM concerns about troop movements. “We have sought and obtained reassurance over the security of the handover process. GAM has the opportunity to demonstrate its willingness to abide by democratic principles and should take it.”

The IFJ said GAM’s credibility could be irredeemably damaged by a failure of the process. Journalists would never be able to take seriously or trust its declarations in future.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries