31 December 2003
New York, NY.
Dear Secretary General,
On behalf of the International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest journalists´ group, I am appealing to you to intervene in the case of kidnapped Indonesian reporter Ersa Siregar who has been killed in the war-torn Aceh province of Indonesia.
On 29 December, Siregar, a senior reporter for Jakarta-based RCTI private television network, was allegedly killed during a clash between rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and state troops in the east Aceh district of Sumatra. We believe this incident, and the circumstances around his detention, must be the subject of a full and open investigation.
His death is particularly shocking following months of negotiation to secure his release. We need clear answers as to how and why he died and they can only be delivered after an independent and searching inquiry.
With our colleagues in the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) we are also seeking urgent clarification over the whereabouts of Siregar´s RCTI colleague cameraman Fery Santoro. Both men were detained by GAM rebels six months ago.
We ask you to look at these cases because for some months we have been pressing the Indonesian authorities and GAM representatives to take prompt action to secure their freedom.
Delegations from the IFJ met previously with Indonesian officials in Brussels at the beginning of August and again at the beginning of December, in nine different countries across the globe. IFJ officials also met with GAM representatives in Stockholm on August 19 and secured an agreement to release the journalists.
However, obstacles to their release were put in place by Indonesian authorities and on December 18, the IFJ wrote to the Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri asking her to direct the Indonesian military to remove any blocks impeding the release of the journalists and to allow the free movement of human rights organisations in the province of Aceh so that they may receive the journalists.
Tragically, in the case of Siregar this is now too late. But it is not too late, in the name of justice and democracy, for a full and transparent inquiry into what happened to ensure that our colleague Santoro does not suffer a similar fate.
It appears that there has been a flagrant failure to act by the Indonesian government which shows disregard for the protection of journalists rights and the defence of press freedom in the region.
As you know under the Geneva Conventions, journalists and other media workers should be treated as civilians and should not be military targets.
The Indonesian cases add to our growing concern over the failure of responsible governments to carry out proper and credible investigation of the deaths of journalists.
We are also seeking fresh protection for media staff at times of conflict, in line with the added protection granted by the Security Council earlier this year to humanitarian staff working in conflict zones.
The IFJ is not looking for special privileges or rights for journalists, but we believe that the work of journalists reporting from conflict zones is vital for democracy and just as governments should be specifically guided on the need to be alert to the needs of humanitarian staff, similar guidance should be provided for media staff.
In 2003 the IFJ and a number of other industry bodies – trade unions, press freedom groups and media organisations – have taken long overdue steps to improve the safety and working conditions of journalists and media staff through the creation of the International News Safety Institute.
We believe that a similar display of commitment to creating safe and secure conditions for media work should come from governments and we ask you to use your good offices to intervene to raise these questions within the Security Council.
Meanwhile, could I ask you to take up the issue of an inquiry into the death of our colleague Siregar. This is a benchmark case. We believe that a government with nothing to hide should be willing to co-operate with a thorough and independent investigation.
I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.
For further information please contact Christopher Warren at firstname.lastname@example.org