Wednesday, June 21, 1995

Indonesian Journalists on Trial


for further information:
Andreas Harsono (202) 676 7840 (dormitory)

Background briefing on the press freedom in Indonesia
Organized by
the Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists

1522 K Street, NW, Suite 910, Washington, DC 20005-1202
Washington DC, Wednesday, June 21, 1995

Last year the Indonesian government closed down three news weeklies: TEMPO, Editor and DeTIK. Information Minister Harmoko, a former journalist himself, reasoned that TEMPO (c. 250,000) had stepped beyond their prescribed limits after several official warnings, that DeTIK (c. 450,000) had diverted from its stated goals of a crime-and-detection paper and that Editor (c. 80,000) had changed the composition of its editorial board without prior notice.

The three weeklies were by then the most independent news weeklies. TEMPO was Indonesia's longest-established magazine. DeTIK was a hugely popular tabloid, reporting a lot of sensitive issues and Editor was a financially-troubled competitor of TEMPO.

Independent observers believed that the media coverage of the procurement of 39 ex-East Germany warships, led by Minister of Research and Technology B.J. Habibie, is the real reason of the closure.

Minister of Finance Mar'ie Muhammad, with the support of the anti-Habibie faction within the military, slashed Habibie's proposed budget from US$1 billion down to some US$300 million. The media covered both sides.

But President Suharto alleged that the press had pitted one official against another, instructing his men to take actions against the press.

The closure immediately led to street protests in dozens of cities. Thousands of students, artists, journalists, social workers protested the banning. TEMPO editor Goenawan Mohamad, a number of its employees as well as some 1,200 readers filed four separate law suits against Harmoko.

Some high ranking officials also regretted the banning. A general said that one cannot dismiss a battalion because of the wrongdoing of a single soldier, "Punish the soldier but do not dismiss the whole battalion."

International protests were raised from around the world. They were, however, calming down after Suharto gave lectures to some foreign dignitaries, including President Clinton, on human rights values during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

On the street, the Indonesian military took firm measures against protesters, intimidating organizers, beating demonstrators and arresting dozens of protesters. Information Ministry warned local media not to "exaggerate" the press bans. Copies of Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and the Singapore Straits Times that contained coverage and pictures of the beatings have been withheld from distribution.

Result: no more report on the protest. Reports on other "sensitive" events such as a labor dispute were also dropped. Newspapers do not reveal the truth. Instead, they disclose the biases and the perceptions of those who produce the papers. Readers need to read between the lines of the newspapers to get what is real and truthful.

Unexpected results: the booming of alternative media such as the INDEPENDEN magazine (c. 12,000) and "Kabar dari Pijar" bulletin (c. 1,000). Hundreds of journalists set up a new independent organization following the failure of the state-sponsored Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia (Association of Indonesian Journalists) to condemn the banning.

Local journalists earlier demanded that the Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia to ask Harmoko revokes the decisions. The association, however, said that they can "understand the revocation of the three's licenses."

The unsatisfied journalists, mostly the younger ones, established the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) on Aug. 7, 1994. They proclaimed the Sirnagalih Declaration, after the village where it was issued, which stresses the needs to fight for freedom of expression in Indonesia. "Sirnagalih" is a Sundanese word (West Java) literally means "beyond limit."

It did not take long for the Information Ministry as well as the Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia to crack down AJI. They put pressures on editors to sack their staff involved in AJI. In addition to reporters of TEMPO and DeTIK, almost one hundred journalists became jobless. Some have voluntarily resigned from their offices after being forced to resign from AJI. Several were transferred to non-editorial sections of the newspapers such as marketing, distribution, research and library.

The authorities later arrested Ahmad Taufik (born 1965), Eko Maryadi (b. 1968), Danang K. Wardoyo (b. 1976) and Tri Agus Siswowiharjo (b. 1966). Taufik is a TEMPO reporter and the president of AJI. Both Maryadi, who used to work as a TEMPO researcher, and Wardoyo are staffers of AJI. Siswomiharjo is the editor of the hard-hitting Kabar dari Pijar bulletin.

Siswomiharjo is charged with writing hatred-sowing articles that violates the Criminal Code. He is still awaiting for his trial at a detention center in Jakarta. Taufik, Maryadi and Wardoyo are currently being tried at the Central Jakarta District Court, charged with writing hatred-sowing and defamatory articles (against Harmoko, Habibie and Suharto) as well as publishing the unlicensed INDEPENDEN magazine. The maximum penalty is seven year imprisonment. Police is now still looking for AJI General Secretary Santoso.

Indeed, Taufik acknowledges that AJI is the publisher of the "INDEPENDEN" magazine, the symbol of the alternative media in Indonesia. "If people cannot get the information through mainstream newspapers, they will naturally look for another way," Taufik said.

Indonesia's 1982 Press Act explicitly prohibits both censorship and press banning. Two years later Harmoko issued a ministerial decree which permits Information Minister to revoke the publishing licenses on editorial grounds (Harmoko has increasingly had stakes in more than 30 news organizations since then).

That was the legal grounds for the Jakarta Administrative Court to rule in favor of TEMPO in a landmark decision on May 3, 1995. Goenawan and his reporters, however, still cannot republish the magazine on the grounds that Harmoko had immediately made an appeal.

The outcome is clear. The Suharto administration killed outspoken papers and gave new licenses to politically-connected timber tycoon Bob Hasan and businessman-turn-politician Abdul Latief, to publish GATRA and TIRAS magazines, which respectively imitating TEMPO and Editor. The government have set up "zombie newspapers." Anybody who knows anything in Indonesia, can tell a free newspaper from a zombie.

Andreas Harsono (b. 1965) currently works as the Jakarta-based stringer of the West Australian newspaper based in Perth. He has worked for the Jakarta Post daily, the leading English-language newspaper in Indonesia, before losing the job following his role in the Alliance of Independent Journalists which he co-founded in 1994. His beat included urban affairs, forestry and human rights.

Sunday, March 26, 1995

Journalists arrested in Jakarta

By Max Lane

Central Jakarta police on March 16 detained without warrant several journalists at a party celebrating the end of the Muslim fasting month. The party was hosted by AJI (Alliance of Independent Journalists), which was formed in the aftermath of the banning of the leading news weeklies Tempo, DeTik and Editor last June, by journalists frustrated with the pro-dictatorship stance of the official Indonesian Journalists Union (PWI).

Detained were presidium chairperson Ahmad Taufik, Liston P. Siregar, outspoken parliamentarian Sri Bintang Pamungkas, Danang, Eko Maryadi, Fitri and one other. Taufik, Sri Bintang and Liston Siregar were later released, but Ahmad Taufik, a former Tempo reporter, was rearrested the next morning -this time with a warrant under old Dutch colonial laws.

Eko Maryadi and the AJI office assistant, Danang, are also still in jail. Sri Bintang was recently removed from parliament under a law that allows party leaders to sack elected MPs.

In addition to these arrests, the PWI has expelled 13 members who signed the founding declaration of AJI. Under Indonesian press regulations, no publisher may employ somebody who is not a member of the PWI; the PWI has now called on editors to sack the AJI journalists. This has been protested by civil liberties groups such as the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation.

The detentions came after the arrest on March 9 of Tri Agus Siswomihardjo, editor of News from Pijar, and a series of actions against alternative publications. In November a labour issues publication of newspaper clippings, Problema, was ``visited'' by the Jakarta Police, then the Central Jakarta Police, then the Jakarta Military Command and then the local district military command. In February the police confiscated the full collection of Problema held by the conservative Indonesian Labour Foundation.

Last September, the Department of Information also banned Mitra Media, a feminist publication of the women's organisation Kalyanamitra. Later its offices were ``visited'' by agents of the Political Intelligence section of the Prosecutor General's office.

The AJI has published its magazine, Independen, in defiance of repressive rules requiring all publishers to have a licence.

Independen has been exposing the acquiring of shares in more than 40 Indonesian newspapers and periodicals and in radio and TV stations by the minister for information, Harmoko. Harmoko is the official who issues publishers' licences and chairperson of the dictatorship's political party, GOLKAR.

Independen recently published an analysis of manoeuvring within the regime in the wake of rumours that President Suharto is suffering a kidney ailment. Independen outlined a struggle emerging between Suharto's cronies, Harmoko and minister for technology Habibie on one side, and parliamentary chairperson Wahono, most of the armed forces officer corps and the Indonesian Democrat Party on the other.

Independen reported that one three-star general had stated that Suharto plans to bring his daughter, Tutut, into the presidency and make the current army chief of staff, Hartono, another crony, vice-president.

AJI spokesperson Andreas Harsono told Green Left Weekly from Jakarta, ``We have around 2000 subscribers and around 10,000 regular buyers. And the magazine is multiplied by the information-hungry readers who make copies of it. We must serve those people, especially, because the Indonesian people cannot rely on the licensed publications.''

Harsono insisted that they would continue the fight and not give up publishing Independen. ``So there is no other choice but moving onward, no retreat. I am sure we can find ways to edit, to publish and sell the magazine.''

The crackdown on Indonesia's mushrooming alternative media provoked a revival of SIUPP (Indonesian Solidarity for a Free Press), a coalition formed to fight the dictatorship's banning of Tempo, DeTik and Editor last June. SIUPP demonstrated outside the National Human Rights Commission on March 20 and at the parliament building on March 21.

Munif Laredo, president of SMID (Students in Solidarity with Democracy of Indonesia) told Green Left Weekly that the 100 demonstrators were demanding the release of the detained AJI and PIJAR (Information Centre and Action Network for Reform) members. ``We want a free press and an end to the Publishing Enterprises Permit law. The Indonesian people want the right to free speech and free expression.''

The SIUPP delegation included activists from SMID, ALDERA (Peoples Democratic Alliance), FAMI (Indonesian Students Action Front), INFIGHT (Indonesian Front for Human Rights), feminist activists from KPPP (Women for a Free Press) and workers from PPBI (Centre for Workers Struggles).

The delegation met the parliamentary leader of the Indonesian Democrat Party, Sutarjo, who stated that his party disagreed with the government's actions.

``We are delighted to see that students and NGOs have started to express their protest over the arrest of our friends'', Harsono told Green Left Weekly, while also emphasising the need for journalists to continue fighting. ``AJI has no choice but to keep on resisting. Who else but journalists must spearhead the struggle for press freedom?''

According to Munif Laredo from SMID, the students will continue their actions as well.

First posted on the Pegasus conference by Green Left Weekly. Correspondence and hard copy subsciption inquiries:

Tuesday, March 21, 1995

Media Against Media, Journalist Against Journalist

AJI press release

Most of the Indonesian media toned down their reporting of the arrest of independent journalists and avoided reporting the press conference held by the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) on Monday while giving strategic columns to comments by government officials.

"This is apparently an open conflict between journalists and journalists," said AJI spokesman Andreas Harsono, referring to the growing conflict between the state-sponsored Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia (PWI) and his fledgling union, AJI.

Local channels broadcast interviews with Information Ministers Harmoko, himself a journalist, who was repeatedly said he will close down any media that employs AJI members.

Indonesia currently has one state-owned channel, TVRI, and five privately--run stations, RCTI, SCTV, TPI, AN-Teve and Indosiar. All the private channels are controlled by children and associates of President Suharto.

Harmoko himself started his career as a cartoonist of the Merdeka daily in the 1960s. Later he published his own paper, Pos Kota, in the early 1970s, during which time he became chairman of the PWI.

In 1993, while keeping his position as Information Minister, Harmoko rose to power as the chairman of the Golkar ruling party.

In a related development, Major-General Syarwan Hamid, spokesman of the armed forces, was quoted by the Republika daily as saying that the arrest of AJI members is legal. "The police have done their job legally," Hamid said, referring to the arrests, which were made without warrants and now without lawyers.

Republika, owned by the powerful Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI), ran four separate items on the crackdown of AJI. It quote Tarman Azzam, the chairman of the Jakarta branch of the PWI, as saying that the association will crack down on AJI. During a celebration of Indonesia's National Press Day in South Jakarta on Sunday, he reminded editors that it would be better to sack their employees who are involved in AJI as soon as possible, before the PWI revokes their recommendation as chief editors.

Azzam revoked the PWI recommendation of the chief editor of Simfoni tabloid (the successor of DeTik), prompting the closure of the tabloid.

In an interview, Media Indonesia quoted Maswadi Rauf, a lecturer on communications at University of Indonesia said that the government should crack down on the emerging underground publications in Indonesia. "The art of journalism is playing within the limit, not against them," he said, commenting that AJI journalists are those who hit their heads against the wall.

On Monday morning, lawyers of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation and some members of AJI met the three detainees, Ahmad Taufik, Eko Maryadi and Danang, at the detention centre of the Jakarta Police HQ. "So far, they are alright, no beating, but intimidation and long questioning, yes," said one of the visitors.