Saturday, November 22, 1997

Indonesia's tireless fighter for freedom of the press

South China Morning Post Interview 

Ahmad Taufik's life in many ways parallels that of recently released Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng. Both were thorns in the side of authority and both were incarcerated because they refused to be silenced. You have the choice of but Taufik is the luckier of the two either being in contrast to the 18 years Mr Wei a courageous spent in jail for sedition, the man or a Indonesian journalist was released in coward July this year after having served just 28 months of a three-year sentence. 

At the time of his arrest in 1995, the Jakarta-born investigative journalist had built a reputation for exposing the dark side of Indonesian society. He had a knack for exposing scandals and questionable public policies under the Suharto regime, such as the government's land-clearing policy that has resulted in the annual problem of forest fires. 

"I raised concerns about the environmental impact [of the land-clearing] before the recent heavy smog that has affected neighbouring regions," he said. 

His boldness finally took its toll when he penned an article in 1995 for the local Independent magazine, exposing a deplorable case of conflict of interest. It revealed the stakes held in several domestic news organisations by Mr Harmoko, the then Minister of Information. 

As a result, Taufik was accused of having "sown the seeds of hatred against the government". But it was obvious to him why he had become a target of hatred. 

During his period of detention prior to the sentencing, he was shown a letter that Mr Harmoko had written to the military to express his indignation at Taufik's magazine piece. 

A man of high spirits who can now laugh at his own misfortune, Taufik, 32, said during a stopover visit to Hong Kong last weekend: "You have the choice of either being a courageous man or a coward." 

Putting on a defiant face, he says he rarely worries about his safety nowadays. "I could have been beaten or killed in prison," he said. 

"Some prison officers had warned me of the possibility, but I was friends with criminals in the same jail. So it would have required a huge amount of money to get a criminal to kill me." 

Taufik, who developed a slight knee problem in jail, stopped in Hong Kong on his way to Vancouver to belatedly receive the 1995 International Press Freedom Award of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. 

He shared his experience at a talk organised by the Freedom Forum for local and foreign journalists. "There are many organisations outside Indonesia who respect what we do," he said. 

"I'd be happier if people in Indonesia respected us too. A lot of the people are afraid to show their support due to pressure from the paramilitary regime." 

Taufik's integrity is admirable. While in prison he continued writing, secretly filing to Indonesian publication reports on corruption within the police and the judiciary. He also condemned the abuse of power by prison officers. 

His interpreter, Andreas Harsono, a friend and the Jakarta correspondent for the Bangkok-based Nation newspaper, chipped in: "He was moved from one prison to another, from one remote place to another more remote place, because of his tendency to write in his cell." But the punishment did not have the desired effect. 

While in the same prison as Xanana Gusamo, the resistance leader from East Timor now serving a 20-year jail term for leading the outlawed East Timorese pro-independence movement, he interviewed the rebel in secret while they were performing gardening chores together. 

Prior to his release, he wrote to Charles Goddard, a local representative of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association, inquiring about the prospects for press freedom in post-handover Hong Kong. But he suspects the letter never left the jail, because he did not receive a reply. 

He raised the same question during his brief visit here. "I hope Hong Kong can set an example of democracy for other parts of China," he said. 

Taufik now specialises in crime reporting for the Jakarta-based D&R news weekly, challenging the authorities, for example, by revealing the military's links with the underworld. It does not bother him that his work and that of his colleagues is often subject to censorship. Neither has the presence of potential risks dampened his enthusiasm. 

His zeal is shared by a group of fellow journalists back home. In August 1994, two months after three weeklies, Tempo, Detik and Editor, were officially banned by the Government, they came together to form the Alliance of Independent Journalists, a body that seeks to promote press freedom in the country. Taufik was its first president. 

He realises an uphill battle lies ahead in their fight for a freer environment, but said: "We'll do whatever we can; we'll test the limits of tolerance of the current regime." Despite his commitment, Taufik, who is married with a son, said: "I never put myself under stress. That's why I managed to persist in my career. In jail too, I even gained weight." 

The personal satisfaction he derives from his work is another incentive for him to remain in the field. "I really enjoy my work," he grinned. 

"It allows me to have access to different information, and disclose to people information that they are not aware of. It's like a priest giving sermons. "I feel free when I am writing. We are oppressed people and what we can do is to keep voicing our views." 

Also a staunch fighter for democracy under a totalitarian regime, he is unlike the internationally known Mr Wei in that he is able to continue his activities in his home country. "I am really sorry that Mr Wei has to go abroad. He should remain in his own country and fight with his own people. But I do hope other dissidents will be released after Mr Wei." 

Showing a certain degree of optimism for future changes in China, he said: "Unlike Suharto, Jiang Zemin has just risen to power. I hope he'll support democracy and not repeat the mistakes of the past Chinese leaders."

I'nesian activists deplore Alatas 'arrogance'

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

VANCOUVER - Activists criticised the Indonesian government on Thursday for Tuesday's warning that Jakarta plans to take action against Indonesians who participate in a street demonstration against President Suharto during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting here next week.

"They have no right to do it. This clearly shows the arrogance of power which was harshly shown in public," said feminist Tati Krisnawati at an impromptu press conference held at the Apec media centre. Tati stressed that she was not afraid and definitely planned to take part in the protest.

In a move which obviously shocked many activists here, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said in Jakarta on Tuesday that his government would take action against any Indonesians seen protesting against President Suharto during the Apec leaders' summit.

"If they are Indonesian nationals, yes, we will take measures against them," Alatas said.

The Canadian media immediately published the remark. The Vancouver- based Province newspaper splashed the statement on their regional page with a photo of Suharto while radio stations interviewed scores of Canadian and Indonesian activists.

Photocopies of the remark were widely distributed at scores of meeting venues where more than 1,000 activists worldwide have gathered to discuss various issues, ranging from East Timor to Tibet, from workers rights to arms sales.

Indonesian dissident George Aditjondro, who stood alongside Tati at the packed press conference, said the Indonesian government was clearly harassing citizens gathering here to express discontent with the Suharto regime at the People's Summit held to coincide with the Nov 17 to Nov 25 Apec meeting.

The non-governmental People's Summit has been organised to channel unofficial views on regional trade and human rights.

"I have to thank Alatas for making such a good public relations move for the Indonesian pro-democracy movement," joked the well-respected scholar currently living in self-exile in Australia.

Indonesian and East Timorese activists accompanying Aditjondro and Tati were clad in black T-shirts which read: "Wanted: Indonesian President Suharto for crimes against humanity".

Aditjondro said Alatas' statement had not surprised him and Indonesian officials had already been seen taking pictures of Indonesian and East Timorese dissidents at a mock trial of Suharto.

Tati said the threat was "only a drop of water in the ocean of repression" that Indonesian human rights workers must endure.

Summit organiser Shauna Sylvester said Canadian unions and non- governmental organisations would make sure that Indonesian nationals can return home without being harassed, adding that they will take action if needed.

Thousands of international protesters are likely to target Chinese President Jiang Zemin and President Suharto in street protests which are expected to climax in a massive rally on Nov 24 and 25 in which students plan to take over the campus of the University of British Columbia where the leaders are to dine.

Ali Alatas said the Canadian government had earlier guaranteed the safety of his delegation.

"We hope the demonstration will not be uncontrollable like what happened in Dresden, Germany, in which our head of state was directly and physically threatened," Alatas said.

During Suharto's visit to Dresden in April 1995 protesters staged demonstrations and booed him over Jakarta's human rights record, including the killings in the internationally-disputed East Timor.

An East Timorese student even managed to throw a rolled-up newspaper at Suharto.

Meanwhile, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta left Vancouver for New York on Thursday to avoid putting the Canadian government in a delicate diplomatic position next week when Suharto arrives.

"I don't want to be here while President Suharto is here," the spokesman for the East Timor resistance movement told The Nation on Thursday. "It is likely to put the government here in a rather difficult position."

Ramos-Horta, who delivered a speech on human rights prior to his departure, said he had been very grateful to be able attending the People's Summit, although no Canadian federal leaders had officially met him.

Nevertheless, he said, he was satisfied that he would eventually speak with British Columbia Premier Glen Clark, one of the few leaders willing to meet him.

Observers and diplomats earlier said that Indonesia had expressed reservations upon learning that Ramos-Horta was scheduled to be in Vancouver to open the summit on Wednesday evening.

President Suharto ordered Indonesian troops to invade East Timor in 1975 and declared the former Portuguese colony a province in 1976.

The United Nations, however, has not recognised the Indonesian takeover and is currently trying to mediate in the long-running conflict between Lisbon and Jakarta.

"I don't agree with a lot of his [Suharto] views, but I think he needs to be respected as the head of state of Indonesia," Ramos-Horta said.

He told people gathered for the summit that Apec leaders would be "courting revolution" if they continue to focus only on economic issues instead of the needs of the people.

Monday, November 17, 1997

Pulitzers for newspaper sites only

By Courtney Macavinta 
Staff Writer, CNET 

November 17, 1997, 5:05 PM PST 

When it comes to journalism, the Net has it all: self-published, one-sided commentary, interactive movie reviews, breaking political and business stories, and, of course, the digital arms of the nation's oldest, most well-read newspapers. 

But just as before the cyber-publishing storm, only newspapers will be able scoop up the Pulitzer Prize for their online contributions. 

The Pulitzer board announced today that for 1998 entries, which will be awarded in 1999, newspapers can submit work presented on the Net for the Public Service category gold medal, which is awarded for a publication's use of all its resources to serve readers. 

"The board has taken what it regards as a significant step in recognition of the growing importance of work being done by newspapers in online journalism," Seymour Topping, administrator of the Pulitzer Prize, said in a statement. 

However, he added that only U.S. newspapers published daily, Sunday, or at least once per week were eligible. The decision was made by a five-person committee within the Pulitzer board that debated whether to allow online submissions for the coveted awards. 

The committee formed in April after some exclusively online news publications, such as the American Reporter, had complained that investigative reporting entries published in a digital format were being shunned by the board. 

Joe Shea, who produces the American Reporter, tried to enter international correspondent Andreas Harsono's political coverage from Jakarta for a Pulitzer in 1997. Harsono broke a story last May that members of the Indonesian army were planning to oust the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party. 

Shea argued that Harsono was at great personal risk while reporting the story, and that the medium was secondary to the value of the story. The online publisher was unhappy with today's decision. 

"I heard about it today, but my joy turned to deep disappointment when I learned that it was only for newspapers that have a newsprint presence. I thought it was self-protective of the newspapers," Shea said. 

The creators of the popular online magazine Salon also expressed disappointment. "The Internet is injecting personality and perspective back into journalism," said Salon editor David Talbot. "There is a clash of value and a clash of style with newspapers. I would stack up our columnists to writers for an op-ed newspaper page any day."

Sunday, November 02, 1997

Car project escapes the axe

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

JAKARTA, Sunday 2 Nov. 1997 - Economists and business executives expressed disappointment yesterday that the International Monetary Fund did not include the scrapping of the controversial Indonesian national car project on its list of conditions for a rescue package, saying that the IMF lacked the courage to attack the politically well-connected project.

Analyst Christianto Wibisono of the Indonesian Business Data Center said the car project has became a symbol of nepotism and anti-market tendencies in Indonesia, adding that it deserves to be abandoned more than any other state-sponsored project.

Economist Faisal Basri of the University of Indonesia said the exclusion had created an image that the IMF-led reform effort does not touch on the basic fact that the Indonesian economy should be managed professionally and purged of favouritism.

Critics like Basri and Wibisono had earlier urged the IMF to scrap the car project on the grounds that it had drained Indonesia's foreign reserves, contradicted government policies on taxation and import tariffs and had nothing to do with Indonesian nationals.

It was reported yesterday that President Suharto's son, Hutomo Mandala Putra, had been replaced as president of the carmaker PT Timor Putra Nasional, although officials denied the move was linked to the IMF package.

Unconfirmed reports said that PT Timor Putra Nasional is to be merged with PT Astra International, one of the biggest Indonesian automobile assemblers, whose major shareholder is a group of foundations under the chairmanship of Suharto.

A consortium of nine state-owned and private banks, which include Bank BNI, the biggest state-owned bank, and tycoon Liem Sioe Liong's Bank Central Asia, had earlier this year agreed to give a US$690 million syndicated loan to PT Timor Putra Nasional.

The car programme is now being scrutinised by a World Trade Organisation panel in Geneva because of complaints lodged by Japan, the European Union and the United States accusing it of being discriminative and violating WTO rules.

Economist Kwik Kian Gie, who is also a close aide to opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, said the car project could be shelved without an IMF demand because Indonesia might lose in the WTO case.

Kwik added that South Korea's Kia Motors, the Seoul-based parent company of PT Timor Putra Nasional, has already gone bankrupt and Timor cars are not selling well in Indonesia.

"Those banks that committed $690 million face a force majeure because of a liquidity problem and the rupiah's depreciation," Kwik said, adding that the IMF, however, should still include the car project on its blacklist as a matter of principle.

The value of the Indonesian rupiah has decreased by about 35 per cent to the US dollar since Thailand floated the baht on July 2. Before the de facto baht devaluation, the Indonesian currency stood at about 3,300 rupiahs to the dollar but nose-dived to 4,100 to the greenback in mid- September. Now it runs at between 3,800 and 3,900 to the US currency.

State Secretary Moerdiono said on Friday when announcing the IMF-led reform package that the fundamental objective of all these various measures was to improve the overall efficiency and competitiveness of the Indonesian economy.

Saturday, November 01, 1997

Indonesia: One Struggle, One Change

Producer / Director: Maria Luisa Mendonca
Co-Producer: Medea Benjamin
A Global Exchange Production.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is at a tenuous point in its fractured, violent history. President Suharto came to power more than 30 years ago in a military coup that resulted in up to a million dead and thousands jailed. His regime's development model has opened the archipelago to international investment while increasing the gap between rich and poor. Since 1975, it has brutally occupied East Timor, killing more than 200,000 people and engaging in systematic campaigns of rape, murder and torture.

Pro-democracy advocates, East Timorese, labor organizers, students and workers speak out about life under the boot of the Suharto regime in Indonesia: One Struggle, One Change. Shot in Indonesia and East Timor in 1997, this documentary captures the current political climate through the voices of those long silenced. This video features interviews with co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, Jose Ramos-Horta; jailed labor leaders Muchtar Pakpahan and Dita Sari; professor of Indonesian literature Sylvia Tiwon and award-winning Indonesian journalist Andreas Harsono.

Local public television broadcast
San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
National PBS Broadcast
1997, 30 minutes, documentary