IFJ Calls on Aceh Rebels to Honour Pledge and Release Journalists Held Hostage

The International Federation of Journalists today called on the leaders of the rebel movement fighting Indonesian forces in Aceh-Sumatra to release two journalists taken hostage and to honour an agreement in which they pledged to ensure the safety of journalists.

The President of the Aceh-Sumatra National Liberation Front, Tengku Hasan M. di Tiro, and the General Secretary of the IFJ, Aidan White, signed a joint statement in Geneva two years ago in which the Liberation Front – the political wing of the armed Free Aceh Movement (GAM) which is being engaged by Indonesian forces in the region – promised to lift local pressure on journalists and to ensure the physical security of media staff.

The accord, which also included a commitment to defend press rights in Aceh, was signed after IFJ President Christopher Warren wrote to President di Tiro, following threats against staff working for the newspaper Serambi Indonesia, which had been forced to suspend publication.

Earlier this month the IFJ sent a letter of protest to GAM calling on them to immediately release two RCTI station television journalists, Ersa Siregar and Fery Santoro, who are currently being held hostage in East Aceh. On July 4 there were reports that the journalists are in good condition.

The IFJ is seeking a meeting with the Free Aceh movement and the Aceh –Sumatara Liberation Front to bring the hostage crisis to an end.

“Freedom and democracy are never achieved by threatening the lives of journalists,” said Aidan White, “Our colleagues should be freed and the National Liberation Front should honour its declaration of support for the principles of press freedom.”

The IFJ says that reporters are in the crossfire of the conflict with harsh regulations under martial law imposed by the Indonesian military that make it almost impossible for them to report freely. On 17 June the body of cameraman Mohamad Jamaluddin, of the state-run TV station TVR1, was found at the village of Kreung Cut, near Banda Aceh (capital of Aceh province, in north Sumatra). A police spokesman said his body was found in a river, his hands tied and a rope with a stone attached round his neck.

American freelance journalist William Nessen will stand trial next week accused of immigration offences. Prosecutors formally charged him yesterday with immigration violations that carry the maximum penalty of five years in jail. Nessen voluntarily turned himself over to military authorities on 24 June, after spending several weeks with GAM. Nessen, an accredited reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle, should be released immediately and the charges dropped, says the IFJ. “Aceh was not even considered a conflict area until martial law was instituted and the military offensive against GAM rebels began on May 19,” said White, “Nessen was already on the spot and could not meet the requirement to obtain special passes to visit a province he was already working from.”

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