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Curbs In Aceh Put Journalists At 'Grave Risk'

Watchdog Says Media Curbs In Aceh Put Journalists At 'Grave Risk'

Also: INDONESIA: Military curbs press coverage in Aceh

JAKARTA (Jakarta Post/Pacific Media Watch): The Indonesian military (TNI)'s attempts to stop reporters quoting rebel statements in Aceh province put journalists covering the war there "at grave risk", a New York-based journalists' organisation said on Saturday.

"The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the efforts of Indonesian military authorities in Aceh to control press coverage of the conflict there," CPJ executive director Ann Cooper said in a letter to President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

"The policies... put journalists covering the conflict at grave risk," she was quoted by AFP as saying.

The CPJ urged Megawati "to direct military authorities in Aceh to respect press freedom and immediately cease all efforts to curb the media."

Martial law administrator in Aceh Major General Endang Suwarya announced the planned curbs on Tuesday, a day after the military launched a major military assault to try to wipe out rebels.

"We will bring a halt to the news from the spokesmen of GAM (Free Aceh Movement) because they are turning the facts upside down," he said.

He said journalists were free to correct the actions of security personnel "but there should be no reports from GAM and reports that praise GAM."

Suwarya said rules on press coverage would soon be issued and journalists would have to be accredited with the military command in Aceh. The military has "embedded" some local reporters with combat units.

The armed forces spokesman in Jakarta, Syafrie Syamsuddin, said Friday the military would take legal action against media which carried reports about military excesses which proved to be false.

The Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists has protested the curbs, saying reporters need to cover both sides of the story.

GAM officials and spokesmen have previously been freely quoted by the local press.

CPJ said military officials have issued warnings to the Aceh-based daily Serambi Indonesia and a private broadcaster for carrying reports considered to favor GAM.

A local radio station, Nikoya FM, received a call from someone claiming to be a GAM commander, threatening that the rebels would kill a reporter if the station did not start carrying more balanced news, the CPJ said.

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Committee to Protect Journalists [New York]

INDONESIA: Military curbs press coverage in Aceh

May 23, 2003

TO: Her Excellency Megawati Sukarnoputri President, Republic of Indonesia Office of the President Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 1 Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia

Via facsimile: 62-21-778-182

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the efforts of Indonesian military authorities in Aceh to control press coverage of the conflict there.

Your government declared martial law in Aceh effective at midnight on Monday, May 19, beginning a massive military offensive to crush the separatist Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym as GAM. On May 20, Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, the military commander and head of the martial law administration in Aceh, warned journalists that they should neither report on statements issued by GAM leaders nor carry news that supports the separatist cause. "There should be no reports from GAM and no reports that praise GAM," Suwarya said, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The major general also ordered journalists to adjust their coverage. "I want all news published to contain the spirit of nationalism," he said, according to the national English-language daily Jakarta Post. "Put the interests of the unitary state of Indonesia first." Suwarya added that he will soon issue rules governing press coverage, and that all journalists will have to be accredited by the military command in Aceh.

Indonesian journalists have protested the statements, noting that such policies not only violate their right to press freedom but also seriously endanger their safety. "The media's credibility and journalists' safety in conflict areas can only be guaranteed if there is fair and impartial coverage, not one-sided propaganda," said the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).

Already, military officials have issued warnings to the regional daily Serambi Indonesia and the private broadcaster Metro TV for carrying reports considered to favor GAM. Meanwhile the private radio station Nikoya FM, based in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, received a telephone call from someone claiming to be a GAM commander threatening that the rebels would kill a reporter if the station did not start carrying more balanced news.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ urges Your Excellency to direct military authorities in Aceh to respect press freedom and immediately cease all efforts to curb the media. The policies announced by Major General Suwarya put journalists covering the conflict at grave risk.

We thank you for your attention to these urgent matters and await your response.

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper Executive Director

+++niuswire

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