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.
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