IFJ Says May 13th Release of Hostage Journalist is “Moment of Truth” For Indonesian Rebels

The international Federation of Journalists today said that a promise to free Indonesian journalist Fery Santoro, who has been held hostage for almost 10 months in the war-torn region of Aceh in Sumatra, represents a “moment of truth” for separatist rebels.

In an open letter to Tengku Hasan di Tiro the President of the Acheh/Sumatra National Liberation Front (GAM) issued in Jakarta today, the IFJ says that the GAM promise to release Fery on May 13th, without prior conditions, “represents a moment of truth over GAM’s declared commitment to democracy and human rights.”

“His freedom is in your hands and those of GAM officials in Aceh. We urge you and your colleagues to act immediately and decisively to fulfil the promise to free him,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, in the letter to Hasan di Tiro, GAM President.

The IFJ says that the news of Fery’s impending release was received with “great joy” by journalists in Indonesia and their colleagues around the world. Ersa Siregar and Fery Santoro, both working with Indonesian broadcaster RCTI, were captured last year. Ersa was killed in an exchange of fire with government forces in December.

“Following this tragedy we have, like colleagues in the Alliance of Independent Journalists, awaited the early release of Fery with impatience and with increasing concern for his safety,” said White.

White said that in two meetings between GAM leaders and the IFJ, in July 2001 and August 2003 , the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, all in exile in Sweden, had endorsed five points of agreement on principles of press freedom and defence of journalists’ rights and safety and agreed to take steps to release Fery and Ersa.

The IFJ says all sides should put an end to the manipulation of the plight of Fery Santoro and other hostages to suit strategic interests. “We cannot condone playing games with the lives of our colleagues and prolonging the ordeal being endured by colleagues, friends and family,” said White.

The IFJ further says that following the promised release Indonesian authorities should take responsibility for ensuring Fery’s safe conduct and return to his family. “While it may be a requirement of the authorities to interview Fery, we believe that this must be carried out only with his lawyer present and should happen only after he has been reunited with his family,” said White.

Finally, the IFJ urged all Indonesian media and journalists to back the campaign for Fery’s release. “This is the moment, above all, for professional solidarity with Fery and his family,” said the IFJ.

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