Leaders of the International Federation of Journalists today praised the defiance and courage of Indonesian journalists who have finally secured the release of their colleague Fery Santoro after almost a year in captivity. He was among a group of around 100 hostages released over the weekend.
“This is a moment of great joy for all journalists,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren. “Our colleagues in Indonesia never gave up the fight for Fery, even after the tragic killing of fellow hostage Ersa Siregar last year. Their defiance has brought a just result.”
This week the Alliance of Independent Journalists, an IFJ affiliate, sent colleagues to the Aceh region where separatists of the Aceh National Liberation Front (GAM) were holding the hostages. They joined a Red Cross team and travelled into the forest to pick up the released hostages in a carefully planned handover. Five of them went to meet with the leader of the GAM in the area Ishak Daud. After Fery was released he was taken to hospital for a routine check-up.
The IFJ has campaigned vigorously over this case, organising an international day of action and urging journalists to be vocal in their demands for all sides to create safe conditions for the return of Fery, a journalist with Indonesian broadcaster RCTI.
Last year the IFJ General Secretary Aidan White and the recently-elected European Federation of Journalists Chairman Arne Konig met exiled leaders of GAM in Stockholm and secured a commitment to release Fery. And last week White travelled to Jakarta and met with Indonesian Army chiefs who agreed safe passage to allow the handover of hostages. He also discussed the case with Ishak Daud directly.
The IFJ praised all sides – GAM, the Indonesian army which called a brief ceasefire, and Red Cross workers – for finally bringing the hostage drama to an end. The IFJ was fearful of plans for a hostage handover for May 13th recalling the shoot-out in December that led to the death of Fery’s RCTI colleague Ersa Siregar. Nevertheless, the IFJ sent a letter from Jakarta to GAM leader Hasan di Tiro calling on him to keep his word this time. This was followed up by AJI supporters who staged a demonstration in central Jakarta in support of the moves to free Fery and other hostages.
The IFJ has called for Fery to be reunited immediately with his family and for any interview or debriefing about his ordeal to take place in the presence of a lawyer and in Jakarta and not in Aceh.
The IFJ says that the death of Ersa and the ordeal of Fery are symbolic of the crisis and risks facing journalists all around the world.
“Today we celebrate the great news that one of our colleagues has been freed thanks to the solidarity and courage of his colleagues in Indonesia,” said Warren. “This gives us inspiration to work even harder to defend every journalist at risk.”
The question of safety of journalists will be a major feature of the XXV IFJ World Congress, which is to be held in Athens at the end of May.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries