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From 1999 Reports On Human Rights - East Timor

Media Watch at: E-mail: niusedita@pactok.net.au or: bfmedia@mpx.com.au

FROM 1999 COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The 1945 Constitution contains a general provision for freedom of expression; the new law on human rights provides for substantive protection of press freedom (see Section 1.d.); however, the security apparatus often attempted to control and restrict reporting on East Timor, and journalists continued to suffer intimidation and assaults.

Also in September, the Parliament enacted a new press law that provides for freedom of the press, prohibits censorship, and prescribes penalties for anyone who violates these rights. However, the law obliges the press to report events and opinions "with respect to religious and moral norms of the public," and to adhere to the presumption of innocence.

Press companies that violate this provision can be fined up to $71,500 (500 million Rp). Advertising that degrades the dignity of certain religions or creates disorder among diverse religions, or is contrary to public morality, or refers to addictive substances, is prohibited. The new law establishes a Press Board to create and enforce a code of journalistic ethics. Membership of the board consists of journalists nominated by journalist associations, representatives of press companies, and public figures nominated by journalists and press companies. The new law replaced previous press laws that were viewed as being more restrictive of press freedom. In October President Wahid abolished the Department of Information, formerly used as the Government's propaganda and censorship arm.

During the year, the media often exercised press freedom with detailed and hard-hitting reporting on corruption, political protests, national unrest, the parliamentary election campaign, and the presidential selection process; however, the security apparatus often attempted to control and restrict reporting on East Timor.

For example, after the April 17 militia assaults in Dili (see Section 1.a.), a cordon of military and police prevented journalists from approaching the scene. On April 17, prointegration militia attacked and destroyed the offices of the province's most important daily newspaper, Suara Tim Tim. There were reports that the newspaper faced continual threats not to publish any information sourced to proindependence East Timorese, or about civilian deaths due to militia attacks. In April the militia also threatened to attack the office and transmitter site of the Kamnek radio broadcasting center, the Church broadcasting system for East Timor, causing staff to board up the office's windows and doors.

During the transition in East Timor, the media largely conveyed uncritically government- and TNI-inspired disinformation directed against UNAMET and INTERFET. Overall, domestic press and television coverage of

East Timor highlighted the statements of government officials and prointegration leaders, and uncritically conveyed the government (prointegration) line on most issues, in many cases actively seeking to discredit INTERFET. After the consultation election results were announced, prointegration harassment, intimidation by security forces, and assaults against journalists greatly increased. However, later in the year the media did provide extensive coverage of the findings of the Indonesian Commission Investigating Abuses in East Timor (see Sections 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., 2.d., 4, 5, and 6.f.). Also UNAMET's versions of events and reports of abuses by the militias sometimes did appear.

Police questioned three television and radio station news directors about their sources after the stations reported on a recording of a telephone conversation between President Habibie and Attorney General Andi Ghalib in February. Police said that they were investigating possible violations of a 1946 law on the dissemination of false information or news that stirs public unrest.

In June police questioned as suspects the chairman and executive director of the NGO Indonesia Corruption Watch after the Attorney General filed a criminal complaint charging that they slandered him by accusing him of accepting bribes from local businessmen. Police also questioned as witnesses three editors of newspapers that reported on the Indonesia Corruption Watch accusations. In September police questioned a newspaper editor for publishing editorials critical of President Habibie, and the news director of a television station for airing an interview with an Acehnese separatist movement commander.

A magazine editor and a magazine distributor went on trial in October for publishing material that allegedly was offensive to public morality. There has been no police followup to the interrogation of the newspaper editors or the television news director who were critical of President Habibie. However, court proceedings continue against the magazine editor accused of offending public morality.

The Government retained the right to suspend publishing licenses for an unspecified period of time, although no licenses were suspended during the year. Other means of control include regulation of the amount of advertising permitted and of the number of pages allowed in newspapers.

Subsequent to the abolition of the Department of Information in October, many editors believed that they no longer required a license to publish a newspaper or magazine, since there was no controlling body to which to report.

The Government arrested 5 persons for raising the Papuan Independence Flag during the year, and proceeded with trial for 42 other persons arrested for flag-raisings in 1998. All but four persons were released by year's end under President Wahid's amnesty decrees. There were numerous flag-raisings around Irian Jaya on December 1, which is commemorated as the anniversary of Papuan independence. In most cases, authorities did not take action against persons who raised flags, but police broke up a flag-raising vigil in Timika, resulting in injuries and one death (see Sections 1.e. and 5).

The Government operates a nationwide television network with 12 regional stations. Private commercial television companies, most with ownership by, or management ties to, former President Soeharto's family, continued to expand.

All are required to broadcast government-produced news, but they also all produce news and public affairs programming independently. Just prior to the appointment of the current Cabinet, the Minister of Information issued licenses for five new private television stations and granted them 2 years to prepare before beginning broadcast operations. Television networks increased their news coverage during the year, including live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the People's Consultative Assembly's General Session during which the new President and Vice President were elected.

More than 700 private radio-broadcasting companies exist in addition to the Government's national radio network. They all were required to belong to the government-sponsored Association of Private Radio Stations to receive a broadcast license. The Government radio station, Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI), produces the program "National News." Private radio stations and 53 regional government network affiliates relay the program throughout the country.

Regulations issued by the Government in June 1998 reduced the number of compulsory government programming broadcasts from 14 to 4 per day. While private radio stations in the provinces generally adhered to the Department of Information's edict governing the number of daily RRI news relays, many private radio stations in larger urban areas elected to relay the RRI news broadcast only once per day. The regulations allowed stations to produce their own news programs, and many have done so. Candid live coverage of demonstrations and other breaking stories increased markedly during the year. Moreover, "talk radio" call-in programs regularly address timely political and socioeconomic issues.

Foreign television and radio broadcasts are readily accessible. Satellite dishes have proliferated throughout the country, and there is access to the Internet. The Government made no effort to restrict access to satellite programming and has proclaimed an "open skies" policy. Foreign periodicals are widely available. The authorities have delayed distribution of publications by a day or more, although this is rare. The Government restricts the import of Chinese-language publications (see Sections 1.f. and 5).

The Government regulates access to the country, particularly to areas of unrest, by visiting and resident foreign correspondents. It occasionally reminds the latter of its prerogative to deny requests for visa extensions. Special permission is necessary for foreign journalists to travel to East Timor, Aceh, and Irian Jaya. In August the Government denied entry to a foreign journalist, Amy Goodman, who was on an immigration blacklist because of reporting critical of the Government's handling of East Timor (see Section 2.d.). She was intending to cover the August 30 popular consultation in East Timor. Several foreign and domestic journalists, including Washington Post correspondent Keith Richburg and the BBC's Jonathan Head, covering the events prior to East Timor's consultation vote were attacked and injured by prointegration militias. In September the Government detained foreign journalist Allan Nairn, who was visiting East Timor, for several days before deporting him.

East Timorese members of a TNI battalion killed Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes in September, and an Indonesian journalist, Agus Mulyawan, was among those killed when paramilitary forces attacked a convoy in Los Palos in September (see Section 1.a.).

The Government requires a permit for the importation of foreign publications and videotapes, which must be reviewed by government censors. Significant amounts of material bypass customs and censorship procedures.

Most books by the prominent novelist and former political prisoner Pramoedya Ananta Toer are banned, although some are in circulation. According to a study published in the newspaper Kompas, from 1969 to 1998 the Government banned 199 books, approximately 50 percent for religious reasons, 30 percent for political reasons, and 20 percent for ideological reasons. However, bookshops--especially "alternative bookstores" at university campuses and cultural centers--openly sell many new and newly reprinted titles. The Government banned no additional books during the year.

The new law on crimes against the State (see Section 1.d.) prohibits persons from disseminating or developing the teachings of communism or from seeking to eliminate or replace the state ideology of Pancasila in a way that causes harm to persons or property.

While the law provides for academic freedom, there are constraints on the activities of scholars. A Japanese scholar, Yoshihara Kunio, was denied
entry to the country in March because he was on an immigration blacklist. Nevertheless, political activity and open discussions at universities increased significantly during the year.

+++niuswire

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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