IFJ Protest at Jailing of Reporter and Calls for Indonesia to Assist Release of Captives in Aceh <i>*Updated (05 Aug)*</i>

The International Federation of Journalists today stepped up efforts to secure the urgent release of two journalists being held in Aceh by Indonesian rebels and appealed to the Indonesian authorities to give assurances of safe conduct when they are released.

A delegation from the IFJ met with Indonesian officials in Brussels today and expressed concern over the jailing of United States journalist William Nessen, accredited with the San Francisco Chronicle, who was jailed for two months this week on visa irregularities.

“This journalist has been victimised over bureaucratic rules that simply do not justify being sent to prison,” said Aidan White. The IFJ has asked the Brussels embassy to intervene with Jakarta to secure Nessen’s immediate release.

The Nessen case, which involved the reporter turning himself over to Indonesian authorities after being in an area controlled by the Free Aceh Movement, reveals a degree of intolerance by Indonesia, which “undermines confidence that journalists are being treated fairly,” says the IFJ.

The confidence issue has become crucial to talks taking place to secure the early release of two journalists taken hostage by the armed Free Aceh Movement (GAM), the rebel movement fighting Indonesian forces in Aceh-Sumatra. The IFJ has protested to GAM calling on them to immediately release RCTI station television reporters Ersa Siregar and Fery Santoro.

The IFJ has asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to help free the journalists and is pressing Indonesia to give assurances that the journalists will be allowed to return to their homes and families without interference.

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 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.

“We repeat our request to all sides to ensure these journalists are freed quickly and allowed to go home safely,” said Aidan White after the meeting in Brussels. “We hope that this crisis will be brought to an end quickly.”

*Update(05 Aug)*: Nessen was released on Sunday, 04 August, after having already served the final sentence of one month and 10 days, handed down by the Banda Aceh District Court on Saturday. He will now be deported to the US and barred from entering the country for at least one year.

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