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Australian Reporter Barred Over HR Coverage

Australian Reporter Barred Over Human Rights Coverage, Papers Say

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JAKARTA, March 17 (AFP) - A leading Australian media group said Sunday its correspondent had been barred from working in Indonesia because of his reporting on human rights issues.

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and its affiliated newspaper The Age said they were "gravely troubled and deeply regret" the decision to refuse Lindsay Murdoch an extension of his working visa.

"It has been made perfectly clear to us, in our discussions with the government of Indonesia over the past several months, that this decision has been taken in reaction to the authoritative reporting of Mr Murdoch on human rights and related issues in Indonesia," the newspapers said in a statement.

"We believe other media organisations in Indonesia, both foreign and domestic, will take note of this development and its implications for the continued emergence and operation of a free press in Indonesia," the papers said.

It was thought to be the first time since the end of the Suharto era in 1998 that the presence of a specific foreign correspondent "has been challenged in such a manner," they said.

Murdoch, who reports for both papers, told AFP he had applied for the customary 12-month extension when his previous visa expired last December. He was only granted a three-month extension which expired on March 10.

Foreign ministry information official Wahid Supriyadi told AFP that the two Australian newspapers were told of the decision not to renew Murdoch's journalist visa about three months ago.

"They have had ample time to prepare another correspondent and we have clearly told them that the company should assign a new correspondent," Supriyadi said.

But both newspapers refused on the grounds that no government should be able to choose which correspondent operates in its country. It was not clear whether the newspapers would send another correspondent or whether one would be accepted by Jakarta.

Supriyadi declined to comment on the reason behind the government's refusal to extend Murdoch's current visa saying that "the decision over whether to issue a particular visa is an inter-ministerial one."

"But he has been accorded a business visa with which he can enter the country but not engage in journalism. So there is certainly no question of a ban for him to enter the country," he said.

Murdoch said Supriyadi had told him that two articles in particular led to the ban.

He said one series was about how East Timorese children had been taken from refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor and left in orphanages on Java island. The stories focused on failed attempts by the children's parents to be reunited with them.

"Another story cited was how soldiers in a village in Aceh poured boiling water over a four-month-old baby last May. The baby died."

Aceh is the scene of a decades-long separatist revolt. Troops have often been accused by rights groups of atrocities.

Murdoch, who has worked in Indonesia for three years and won two awards in Australia, called the decision to refuse him a visa extension "a serious blow to press freedom in Indonesia."

Many Southeast Asian countries attempt either to restrict the operations of foreign correspondent or the circulation of foreign magazines. Since 1998 Indonesia had been one of the few exceptions.



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