Friday, March 28, 1997

Busang loses its lustre

Andreas Harsono
The Nations, March 28, 1997

Stock prices in the Canadian mining firm that found a much publicized gold deposit in Indonesia slumped after the chief prospector killed himself and reports surfaced doubting the size of find.

The Hongkong-based Far Eastern Economic Review once called Filipino geologist Michael De Guzman a “golden boy” after his spectacular discovery of a "huge gold deposit" in Busang in the Kalimantan rain forest.

De Guzman’s boss David Walsh, the chief executive officer of Calgary based Bre-X Minerals Ltd, recalled him as having a near genius level IQ while colleague geologist John Felderhof praised him as brilliant and a true professional.

De Guzman had his own judgment and decided to end his life. And rather than taking sleeping pills or something less painful, he chose to jump from a helicopter which was flying to the Busang site, around 300 kilometers northwest of Samarinda, the capital of East Kalimantan, last Wednesday morning.

“It was a great shock,” uttered Felderhof, who immediately flew back to Indonesia from a visit to Canada, saying the he was deeply distraught over the loss of his colleague. He said he was unsure of the exact reasons for de Guzman’s death.

Two witnesses inside the helicopter said they just felt a gush of wind by their heads. They turned around and de Guzman was gone from the helicopter.

Police said the pilot and the engineer of the helicopter had seen de Guzman writing a letter and putting it in a bag along with his Rolex watch and a gold plated bracelet just before being plunged from the helicopter. 

The note also said how de Guzman’s wife, who lives in the Philippines, should divide his belongings between his two daughters and other relatives, adding that he had given up to life because of disease.

The tragic death is not the only bad news for Bre-X executives like Felderhof.

The following day an Indonesian newspaper, the Jakarta based Harian Ekonomi Neraca, broke the news that Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Inc were beginning to doubt that Bre-X had found as much gold as it said did at Busang.

The Indonesian Government last month recruited New Orleans-based Freeport to develop the mine, giving it a 15-percent ownership stake and shrinking BreX’s holding 45 percent. The Indonesian government and an investment firm controlled by Indonesian President Suharto took the rest in a 30/10 split. 

The Neraca daily quoted a Freeport official as saying that the finding in less than 10 million ounces which sharp contrast to Bre X’s claim last year of at least 70.95 million ounces of gold.

The Bre-X claim means that the Busang deposit worth is around US$230 billion (Bt 5,750 billion) at today’s prices.

It is possible the deposit is not as large as had been reported. But it is also possible that the deposits are not worth mining at all, the anonymous official told the paper.

In this modern era of information technology, that statement needed just minutes before reaching the whole world and hundred of millions of dollars in market value disappeared as soon as stock exchanges throughout Canada opened on Friday.

A synopsis of the story was flashed to North America by Bridge News, and international financial wire service. The Jakarta bureau of the Agence France Presse as well as other news agencies also quoted the report and spread it worldwide.

In a market primed on the idea that Busang is one of the great gold discoveries of history, this was incendiary stuff. Mining analysts had earlier compared the Busang find to the legendary Klondike or Witwatersrand gold mines in south Africa a century ago.

The Busang deposits even pitted various powerful figures like former Canadian premier Brian Mulroney, former US president George Bush against each other and locked Indonesian President Suharto as well as his children in a high-profile business struggle to control the future structure of Busang.

Within five minutes of opening Bre-X was down 90 cents on the Toronto stock exchange trading and exchange officials called time out at the company request to ensure the investors would be able to trade on equal information, said a market manager. Despite a trading halt of more than 3.5 hours to let the market hear the company’s reassurances, Bre-X slid to $10-70 its lowest point since April 1996 and closed at $11.40, down $1.70, on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

At its lowest point, its value had fallen about $600 million since the world learned of de Guzman’s my serious fall. Also hammered were Bre-X’s parent companies, and Bresea Resources Ltd and Minorca Resources Ltd, which have small indirect stakes in the Kalimantan discovery.

“Absolute insanity. Just Insanity,” Toronto mining promoter Stan Hawkins, a Bre-X shareholder and former Bresea director, told the Globe and Mail newspaper. Hawkins said he had heard all sorts of different rumors that de Guzman was murdered and his assays were all wrong and that was why he jumped of the helicopter. “Certainly, there’s no question about the assay. They’re golden, no pun intended,” he said. 

While stockholders were still selling their shares, dozens of rescuers and colleagues combed the Kalimantan thick rain forest, trying to find de Guzman’s body. World’s apart, both Canadian and Indonesian newspapers, put the rescue effort and the stock hysteria on their front pages.

Rescuers finally found what they suspected to be de Guzman’s body on Sunday, face down in a swamp, 150 meters to be west of Menamang, a village north of Muara Kaman, dozens of kilometers from Busang.

Observers could not help but speculate that de Guzman had taken such a tragic step after finding out that the result of his exploration work, which had been begun in 1986, was falling apart.

“How could a geologist whose picture is printed on glossy magazines would wide stand such humiliation?” asked one observer, adding that de Guzman income has risen dramatically since the find. He was estimated to be worth up $4.8 million. 

BN Wahyu, head of Indonesian Mining Association, complained about the secrecy surrounding the Busang find, saying that he could not get a map of the site from Bre-x until March even though the association had lobbied the mining ministry in Jakarta for a fair deal for the company. 

Both Felderhof and Walsh angrily denied the report. Freeport Spokesman in Jakarta also denied the report, saying that the American company is still drilling and cross examining the deposit in Kalimantan. Without explicitly referring to the Neraca newspaper, Walsh said in a statement that he had considered taking legal action against certain parties and publications due to the erosion of share value which resulted from these reports.

In an apparent bid to calm down investors, Walsh said, “When the first ounce of gold is poured at Busang, I’m sure the naysayers will complain about the color.” 

Felderhof, who is the chief Bre-X geologist, also said that he is going to have a meeting with Freeport executives to discuss their continuing preliminary work on the deposit, adding that he is expecting to be present when Busang’s long delayed contract of work is issued by the Indonesian government within two weeks. 

Bre-X attributes its estimates to consultants from Kilborn SNC Lavalin Inc, a Toronto-based engineering firm, which was standing behind its figure.

Paul Semple, a vice president at Kilborn SNC Lavalin, said the firm had no reason to believe that there were any reasons to amend it. "If there is other information out there, we just haven’t seen it,” he said.

Norman Keevil, chief executive of Vancouver-based Teck Corp, which failed to negotiate its way into the Busang project, said Kilborn’s people are reputable engineers who would not likely be wrong about such a bonanza. 

If Freeport has begun drilling on the site, Keevil said, "It couldn’t have been much more than three weeks ago, so I don’t know how much data they could even have out of it yet.”

Mohamad Cholid, the deputy editor of Neraca, said that his newspaper got the leaked information from two different sources.

The fist was an official at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, “I was told that President Suharto himself has also been briefed about the Freeport finding.”
Cholid explained that his newspaper had headlined the report after carefully checking and rechecking the sensitive data in a usual and standard journalistic manner.

“In a modern time like this,” quipped Cholid, public companies are always vulnerable to reports like this. “The public doesn’t know for sure who is correct, our sources or Bre-X geologist? They want to play is safely. Now they will be just having to wait and see.” 

Thursday, March 27, 1997

Man Who Found Huge Deposit Left a Suicide Note

Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent
Jakarta, Indonesia

by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Bre-X Minerals Ltd. chairman David G. Walsh is a
chain-smoking, beer-drinking penny-stock promoter whose cooperation with
Dutch-born geologists John Felderhof and Filipino Michael de Guzman led to
the discovery of the Busang gold find in the jungle of Kalimantan, the
largest of 17,000 islands in the Indoinesian archipelago.
Admirers hailed Walsh as "a true capitalist hero" who had helped
thousands of ordinary Canadians to make their dream coming true: becoming
millionaires with his stocks.
Critics alleged Walsh is a dangerous adventurer who was once a
bankrupt financier and never paid back all the money that he took from a
financial institution in the early 1990's.
On the eve of the Bre-X stock's tumble, he gave an interview to
the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. radio service from his headquarters in
Calgary. He talked mostly about de Guzman's sudden death
Below is a transcript of the interview, which was aired
NARRATOR: The news of Busang co-discoverer Michael de Guzman's
presumed death] came as a great surprise. We just were with Mike de
Guzman last week at the Toronto Prospectors and Developers annual
convention, where he was in good spirits and anticipating getting back to
the Busang site.
Walsh said that on his way back to Indonesia, de Guzman, who had
14 bouts of malaria in his lifetime, got a checkup at a hospital in
Singapore. He said the hospital faxed his hotel before he was to go to
Busang, telling him he had hepatitis B, which is non-curable in his
case, and would have been a very painful, lingering end to his young life.
So we have recovered a five-page note he has left to his family
and ourselves, more to [co-discoverer] John Felderhof actually, saying
that he's had enough physical pain over the years and he was ending it.
We're taking it as a suicide note. I've got a copy of it and it is his
Q: He must have been in terrible pain, then.
A: He's been in pain on and off over the years, but I guess,
faced with this confirmation of this hepatitis B, he made up his own mind.
Q: And that's in keeping with the police theory in Indonesia that
he threw himself from the helicopter.
A: Yes, we understand that the pilot first noticed something was
wrong when a gush of wind went by his head. And he turned around, and Mike
was gone from the rear left side of the helicopter.
Q: Tell me about the man.
A: He was 41 years old, a remarkably bright fellow, extremely well
thought of, and indeed an unbelievable geologist. And he had his own
theories. He liked working with Bre-X. We do give our geologists the
freedom of developing their theories.
Q: Do you recall what went through your mind when you heard about
de Guzman's discovery in Busang?
A: It was certainly an unbelievable feeling when I was told about
the results from the first hole they drilled, a kilometer from the central
zone, which was line 24.
Q: Some people would have been skeptical about those results. Was
it your faith in de Guzman that gave you that feeling, or were you acting
on instinct?
A: No, it was just my faith in the technical team headed by John
Felderhof, who has worked with Michael for a number of years in Indonesia.
They worked very, very well as a team.
Q: He chose a very dramatic way to end it. It that in keeping with
his personality? Was he a dramatic kind of guy?
A: No, I don't think so. No, he was a very warm, friendly [guy
who had a good sense of humor, but took his work very, very seriously. He
was a perfectionist.

Friday, March 07, 1997

"We never had a problem before"

Andreas Harsono
The Nation, March 7, 1997

The Nation’s Andreas Harsono returns to Rengasdengklok in search of the spark that triggered unprecedented sectarian rioting in the Indonesian town.

Five weeks after thousands of Muslim rioters attacked and vandalized Christian churches, Buddhist temples and Chinese-owned buildings in this small town almost 60 kilometers northeast of Jakarta, residents are still puzzled about why it happened.

They can quickly identify the trigger point of the riot. A Chinese woman scolded a Muslim teenager who was beating a drum in front of a mushola, a small mosque, next door to the woman’s house in the wee hours of Jan 30.

Businesseswoman Cik Gue shouted that the drum beating was disrupting her sleep, but the teenager shot back that it was part of traditional expected activities during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Now government, religious and Chinese leaders and even the teenager himself are wondering why the Muslims not only vented their anger at Liu, but also attacked the other minorities.

"They grabbed, smashed and killed my daughter’s poodle," said Rev Martin Schalkwyk, whose Pentecostal church was burned down, pointing at blood stains on the church wall where the poodle died.

A mushola is typically a small neighborhood mosque where Muslims can conduct their daily prayer. Rengasdengklok has more than 500 musholas and more than 100 regular mosques as well as five Christian churches and two Buddhist temples.

Rengasdengklok community leaders interviewed said the roots of the riot are much more complicated than most observers in Jakarta have believed, far more than merely an expression of anti-Chinese or anti-Christian anger.

"Religious believers here had lived harmoniously. We had never had a problem before," said Muslim leader Acep Halimi, who heads the Indonesian Ulama Council, the umbrella organization of Muslim ministers in Rengasdengklok, explaining that he had never heard any complaints lodged by his followers against non-Muslims.

"Unlike in other places, the Chinese and the on-Chinese here are not integrated but united. They live side by side in a mutually respectful relationship,” said Halimi, adding that he could understand if Christians expanded their churches to make room for new members and children.

Schalwyk and Rev Mulia Waruku, the minister at the local Presbyterian church, also said their churches had never received complaints either from their respective Muslim neighbors or other Muslims.

Witnesses said Liu was very angry when the teenager failed to heed her complaint and reportedly threatened to call the police to silence the noisy drum beating. Liu did call the police, and an officer came to the neighborhood at about 3 am to try to the solve the problem.

But rumors spread faster than the officer could have anticipated. Three hours later, dozens of Muslims began to throw stones at Liu house. It snowballed. More and more people joined in and within 30 minutes, they had destroyed the house and prompted officers to evacuate the Liu family.

In a bid to save their properties, Muslim traders immediately sprayed the word “Muslim” on their buildings. Interestingly, some of them also painted the same word on the property of their Chinese neighbors’ to save them as the rioters attacked.

Some Muslim women also organized themselves to protect the Chinese families living in their neighborhood. “My Muslim neighbour throw her sajadah (Muslim prayer rug) into my living room. It did not help, actually. The rioters still destroyed my house. But I will never forget her help,” said a Chinese woman whose house is next door to a Buddhist temple where rioters hung a status of Buddha on the front gate.

Others tried to make the point that Chinese are not merely the rich while the indigenous Muslims are poor. More than half of the population of a farming area in Rengasdengklok, the Kampung Sawah, are poor Chinese who work on coastal ponds. Rioters didn’t burn a single building there.

Waruku, however, noted that several of his congregation are not Chinese but Sundanese, the ethnic group that lives in western Java, and also had their houses burned down, implying that the riot was not exclusively anti-Chinese one.

Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese community accounts for about seven million of the country’s 200 million people, but the Chinese minority plays a dominant role in business. Most ethnic Chinese Indonesians are either Christians or Buddhists and have been the target of mass unrest in several cities in recent months as mare than 1.000 Chinese owned buildings and more than 50 churches and temples were torn apart.

Local legislator Mukri Saadi, however, provided a different explanation, saying that in the Muslims have long been alarmed by the expansive “Christianisation” of Rengasdengklok, referring more specially to the erection of a monument in downtown Rengasdengklok in the shape of a fish, which he interpreted as the ancient Greek Symbol of Jesus Christ.

“A lot of Muslims have complained about the symbol being erected in the most strategic location in town,” Mukri said, adding that the main sponsor of the monument, Bank Pantura Abadi, a small bank operating only around Rengasdengklok, is owned by a wealthy Chinese businessman.

Christianisation is always a sensitive word in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim community. The Muslims repeatedly alleged that Christian missionaries had lured people into converting to Christianity through charities and Christian run school. 

A top government official also admitted that the monument had created resentment among Muslims in Rengasdengklok and the government tore it down a few days after the riot. Banker Herry Susanto, a.k.a. Thio Hok Lie, who headed Bank Pantura Abadi, is not only a wealthy local businessman but also among the most powerful, wealthy and well-connected ethnic Chinese residents of Rengasdengklok.

He is perhaps typical” of business leaders of Chinese descent in southeast Asia who are aggressive, industrious and have found powerful political backing. Another is Indonesia’s most successful financial magnate, Liam Sioe Liong, one of the richest men in Asia, who is closely related to President Suharto.

Economists commonly say that people cannot do business on a major scale in Indonesia, in particular, or Southeast Asia in general, without the baking of powerful politicians. They say collusion between business players and government officials has become a common practice among Asian leaders. US President Bill Clinton is currently in the middle of a political scandal over their contributions to him. 

Mukri alleged that Susanto his also behind the renovation of the Presbyterian church, where the banker is a member. The new building is several times larger than the old one and taller than its building permit allows.

Susanto whoever, denied that allegation, saying that is bank sponsored the monument because he was asked to. “As the main sponsor, of course, I asked them to put the logo of my bank on top of the bell tower,” he said.

In a separate interview, Waruku defended Susanto, saying that the allegation that the church renovation had created problems among the city’s Muslims was groundless.

"We got all the required licenses, and the building is built based on the those licenses. We enlarged the church building because we have to anticipate the growth of church members over the next 10 years. We cannot renovate the church every year.”

Susanto, however, did not deny that his bank’s logo resembled a fish. When asked whether he was deterred by the riot, the Chinese businessman whose bank was destroyed and suffered losses of more than Bt2.5 million said firmly, “business should go on as usual.”

While working to fix some broken altars, Buddhist leader Yo Cun Siang of the Shia Djin Kong temple said that his priority was to rebuild the divided town. Yo said he did not have words to express his feeling when he saw statutes of the Chinese goddess Kwan being thrown into garbage bins without her arms.

“Who knows whether some Thai people want to make a donation here?” the bronze skinned Yo said, explaining that he needs around Bt1.25 million to renovate the Chinese temple. 

Martin Schalwyk recalled that the government did not have the funding to help rebuild his burned down church. But a lot of Christians have been coming to his parish, talking to him, prayed and slipped an envelope into this hand before leaving the runs. ***

Experts see Jakarta link to provincial trouble

Andreas Harsono
The Nation, March 7, 1997

RENGASDENGKLOK, Indonesia -- Noted experts on anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia gave different explanations on recent outbreaks although most of them agreed that the riot issue is much more complicated than most observers predicted. They also said that the outbreaks need to be analysed carefully before they could offer suggestions to prevent them recurring. 

Historian Taufik Abdullah of the Jakarta-based Indonesian Institute of Sciences said the rioting that broke out recently in Surabaya, Tasikmalaya, Situbondo, Pontianak and Rengasdengklok, was not necessarily related to the government’s classical explanation about ethnic, religious and racial tensions.

"What we found is a horizontal pluralism which has become more complex than its initial diversity on ethnic and religion. But we also found vertical pluralism up and down, which is determined by economy and politics,” said Abdullah. 

As an example of horizontal pluralism, Abdullah referred to the existence of different ethnic groups like the Javanese, the major ethnic group in Indonesia who mostly live on the islands of Java, via-avis the Chinese minority.

The natural pluralism became more complex because most Javanese are Muslims while the Chinese are Christians. The horizontal pluralism has developed its complexities. It became more difficult when vertical pluralism become added to the already complex horizontal pluralism. 

“Chinese Christians the rich versus Javanese Muslim the poor,” said Abdullah, adding that the national development in Indonesia had brought not only but also the seeds of potential conflict.

“We learn how to live in harmony but we forget to learn how to have conflicts in a respectable manner,” he said, adding that most Indonesians are lulled into the nation building efforts of the late President Sukarno in the first two decides after Indonesia’s independence in 1945.

He said that the most important factor in solving the big problems is “people empowerment” on political as well as economic levels. 

The potential conflicts should be channeled through legal mechanisms which will not produce “self-infected wounds” on the nation of Indonesia.

Prominent columnist Goenawan Mohmad noted that a lot of Muslim traditions are adopted from Chinese rituals. Writing in a recent column that the Muslim drum locally called “bedug” is nothing more than an adaption of the Chinese leather drums usually hanged and used in Chinese temple but now widely used on Java Island. 

Goenawan believe that the rapid pace of economic development in Indonesia had changed a lot of old traditions including physical rituals where teenagers were encouraged to compete in drum beating activities or whip lashing. 

“Now every time I go to a kampung, I see teenagers drinking and getting drunk. They don’t even have fields to play football anymore. So where can they channel their energy now?" he asked rhetorically.

Australian scholar James Mackie wrote in his paper entitled “Anti -Chinese Outbreaks in Indonesia 1959-1968” that in general it can be expected that anti-Chinese unrest is more likely to occur in periods when the central government in Jakarta is weak or unsettled that when its security in the saddle. Mackie also concluded from his intensive studies that antagonism toward the Chinese, either latent or overt, could be found in most countries in Southeast Asia.  

Indonesia, however, has acquired and unfortunate reputation for particular hostility to them, largely because of several dramatic episodes which have taken place since the first Chinese mass killings in 1740 during Dutch colonial rule, in the 1940s during the short rule of the Japanese imperial army until the first decade of the President Suharto administration in the 1960s.

Anti-Chinese sentiment is also a legacy of Dutch rule which had segregated people living on this archipelago into three different sections: the Whites, the Orientals and the indigenous people.

Wednesday, March 05, 1997

The Sensitive Question of Transitional Justice in Indonesia

Transitional Justice in East Asia and its Impact on Human Rights
Human Rights Dialogue
Series 1, Number 8 03/05/1997

Andreas Harsono

When in 1987 South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan handed over power to his confidant, Roh Tae Woo, Indonesian President Suharto reportedly told his vice president and close aide Sudharmono that the Korean power transition could be a model for Indonesia. Ten years later, and after having ruled the world's fourth most populated country since 1965, the aging Suharto is now facing serious decisions about whether (and how) to hold on to power or simply retire.

Suharto has almost certainly changed his mind about the Korean model of succession. He watched as Roh, in a bid to strengthen his power base and calm the opposition in South Korea, tried to distance himself from the human rights abuses that took place under Chun and prove that he was not merely under the thumb of his predecessor. Later he watched as Roh lost power to Kim Young Sam whose government set about prosecuting Chun and Roh and sentencing both to lengthy prison sentences. This was definitely not the model Suharto had in mind.

Even the tightly controlled Indonesian press headlined the trial and printed pictures of the handcuffed former Korean presidents on their front pages. These images had ominous implications for Suharto: perhaps one day he, too, would face such a trial if he ever steps down from power.

Indonesia's government, intellectual, and military elite believe that any justice brought about in the coming transition will be tied to the democratization process itself. Political players in Indonesia's democratization can be divided into three camps: the nationalist movement, whose main figure and founder was the charismatic former president Sukarno; the politically-involved military leaders, who have Suharto as their figurehead; and the political Muslims, who are heavily divided among different religious sects, some of which have demonstrated political ambition. Will the next leader represent the Muslims, whose influence has significantly increased since the establishment of the influential Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals under technology-czar B. J. Habibie? Or will the next leader represent the young military officers currently gathered around Suharto's powerful son-in-law, Major General Prabowo Subianto? Or will the nationalists return to power under opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sukarno s daughter? Predicting who will succeed Suharto and what form of justice they would seek, if any, remains a complicated and difficult issue. For that matter, the whole concept of transitional justice is extremely new to Indonesia.

In private, the different political groups are discussing who will rule post-Suharto Indonesia and what kind of legal reprisals the next government might take against its predecessor. Some of the transitional justice scenarios whispered about consider action against Suharto and his family members, whose business empire has grown tremendously under their patriarch s influence. Charges of human rights abuses and corruption could result in trials, isolation, or seizure of their property. But some leading pro-democracy and opposition figures are rumored to have told their inner circles that they are ready to offer generous pardons to Suharto and his supporters. The implications of pardons could be nothing, or it could seal Indonesia's fate as an explosive divided nation—a sort of Asian Yugoslavia—which would have disastrous consequences for human rights.

Establishing the criteria by which transitional justice is implemented is highly complex. The reality, as one observer said, is that "the winners will dictate with their own values. The truth is exercised by those in power." Some of the more problematic questions are as much related to the change in power as to the complexities inherent in transitional justice. Justice under transition can be arbitrary: Who will be deemed a friend or an enemy of the new regime? Who can be trusted and who cannot? Who can be held directly accountable for the abuses committed under Suharto s rule and who was just following orders? What charges can be leveled against the past regime? Can laws be applied retroactively? And there is the difficult dilemma of judgment: If a judgment is made on moral grounds, those who are in political favor but are guilty of wrongdoing may still be punished; but if a judgment is made on political grounds, those who are innocent may end up being punished. The latter occurred in Indonesia when Suharto came to power and has taken place in other countries, such as China and Burma.

In prosecuting Sukarno and his followers in the late 1960s, Suharto created his own form of justice. During the massacre of some 500,000 alleged communists in 1965-66, the army-backed Suharto administration also jailed thousands of people deemed to be enemies of the state. Those who were regularly active within the banned Indonesian Communist Party—which was blamed for a failed coup attempt and the killing of several army generals in 1965—were categorized as "Group A" and subject to execution or life imprisonment. Many of those still imprisoned today claim that they are being unfairly punished because they acted on political orders. Those who were less involved but not above suspicion were categorized as "Group B" or "Group C," and jailed or exiled on Buru Island, mostly from 1966 to 1979. Those who were released in the 1970s lost political and other rights, including the right to travel. Today, their children and relatives are not allowed to join the ranks of the civil service or military, or work as educators. Ironically, Indonesia's most famous novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who wrote about Indonesia's liberation from the Dutch, is among these "second-class citizens," as one Indonesian columnist described them.

In a number of cases of massive human rights violations the need for justice is clear. It is widely accepted in Indonesia that the involvement of government and military officials in the mass murder of innocents requires some form of justice. Indonesia under Suharto has suffered many such incidents, including the 1984 Tanjung Priok massacre in Jakarta, where dozens of Muslim protesters were gunned down, and the 1991 Dili massacre, when more than 200 East Timorese were brutally killed.

However, when it comes to the massacres of the 1960s, according to polls conducted by the Jakarta-based Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information, most average citizens, many of whom lost relatives to these vicious mass murders, view retribution for them as an obstruction to justice and reconciliation in Indonesia. In fact some intellectuals believe that the retroactive application of justice must not be allowed to go back as far as the massacres of 1965–66. Why? Many argue that all groups were involved in the fighting and violence of the 1960s; whereas the more recent massacres in Timor and Jakarta were a case of government soldiers attacking citizens.

"If Suharto does step down, he wants firm guarantees that his successors will not turn on him in the way that is happening now in South Korea," said Juwono Sudarsono, vice governor of Indonesia s National Defense Institute, in a recent interview. The big question is whether Suharto could step down in such a manner. Perhaps, observers say, he would rather wait it out and die in office.

Andreas Harsono is the Jakarta correspondent for the Bangkok-based newspaper Nation.

© 2005 Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. No material on this site may be used in part or in whole by any other publication or website without the written permission of the Carnegie Council.

Saturday, March 01, 1997

On the line

Government control over the media is absolute and unyielding - and woe betide those who overstep the mark

Andreas Harsono - Index on Censorship

"IT IS dangerous to be right," wrote Voltaire, "when the government is wrong" - to which most Indonesian journalists would probably reply that in their experience it is better to be pragmatic, even to report lies, than to tell the truth. 'If you write something the government doesn't approve of, they call up the chief editor and tell you to stick to the official press releases. We call it the "telephone culture": explains a journalist working for an Indonesian business daily.

And the threats don't only come by phone. In June last year chief editors in Jakarta were called in by a military official and encouraged to support the government's overthrow of Megawati Soekarnoputri, the eldest daughter of former President Soekarno and a popular political figure . They were also told not to use the term 'ousted' when describing the government's removal and replacement of her as chair of the PDI. Editors were also warned against using Megawati's surname because of its association with her father, and were advised instead to call her by her husband's name.

Even greater media engineering took place in the case of the new, but formally unrecognised, People's Democratic Party (PRD). A week before the Jakarta riots of 27 July, an ABRI (armed forces) official did the rounds of the editorial offices, providing information about the PRD which, he claimed, proved the organisation's Communist leanings. The official urged editors and producers to use the information. The highly damaging - and unproven - accusations duly made headlines in both the print and broadcast media, and provided the basis for official charges that the following week's disturbances were mainly orchestrated by the PRD. 

Thirty years after he gained power following the abortive coup d'etat of 1965, President Suharto has transformed this nation into a very carefully balanced political system defined by an invisible line of tolerance.

Old editorial hands say that on the forbidden side of this invisible line lie the personal lives of the Suharto family (whose business empires have grown tremendously because of their patriarch's position), East Timor, human rights violations in general and Megawati Soekarnoputri. 'When we're writing about East Timor we have to use the word "integration" instead of "invasion"; says another journalist. 'Writing the wrong word means your editor barking at you and questioning your patriotism.'

The government has also introduced a group of media taboos known collectively by the acronym SARA: "Suku' (ethnicity), 'Agama' (religion), 'Ras' (race) and 'Antar golongan' (inter-community). When dozens of churches were burned down by Muslim protesters in the towns of Situbondo and Tasikmalaya in 1996 the daily paper Kompas, which has strong Catholic connections, used the term 'houses of worship' rather than 'churches'. This is a SARA issue and the newspaper does not want to be seen to be highlighting religious tensions.

Perhaps the most important example, however, came in 1994, when several papers reported a dispute among aides to President Suharto over the procurement of 39 warships from the former East German navy. Research and technology minister B J Habibie requested US$1.1 billion to buy and to renovate the ships. His rivals, who include several military generals and finance minister Mar'ie Muhammad, refused to sanction such expenditure, and slashed the budget to US$300 million. The generals complained that they could not use the Soviet-modelled ships because their sailors are more familiar with western equipment. 'You cannot go to war with your admirals unable to read the Russian instructions; said one military analyst.

The media thought the story merited publication. It involved some big names, money, politics, manoeuvring and friction among powerful officials. It turned out to be an expensive, indeed lethal, decision. Suharto accused the media of pitting government officials against one another. Worse than that, Indonesia's number one man, himself a former military commander, ordered the closure of Tempo, DeTik and Editor news weeklies. A government official explained that "the government had been forced to revoke the publishing licences of the three magazines for the sake of the development of a free, healthy and responsible press, and for the sake of national stability."

At the time, the weeklies were the three biggest political magazines in the country. Tempo was launched in 1971 and modelled on Time magazine. When the government closed it down in June 1994, Tempo had 400 staff, sales of about 200,000 and a readership estimated at 1.4 million. The banning of the weeklies was the death knell for freedom of the press in Indonesia.

Aside from banning newspapers and arresting journalists - the most visible aspect of its repressive policies -the government has two other sophisticated weapons to bring the media into the line. The first is the state-sanctioned Association of Indonesian Journalists (PWI), which acts as the official watchdog in editorial offices. The PWI can revoke its endorsement of an editor, automatically prompting the government to ban his newspaper. 

Information minister Harmoko, the man who introduced this system, usually appoints his cronies to fill strategic positions in the PWI. Sofjan Lubis, the PWI's president, is the chief editor of the Jakarta-based daily Pas Kota, which is owned by Harmoko. Meanwhile, Tarman Azzam, the editor of its sister paper Harian Terbit, heads the PWI's Jakarta branch. Harmoko has also issued a decree making it compulsory for Indonesian journalists - whether working for domestic or foreign news organisations - to become members of the PWI.

The second weapon is the system of publishing licences, commonly known by its acronym, SIUPP. A licence can be revoked at any time, thereby enabling Harmoko (who also chairs the ruling party, Golkar), to create a system of self-censorship that generates fear among journalists. Although the 1982 Press Law specifically prohibits censorship or bans, Harmoko has issued another ministerial decree allowing the government to revoke publishing licences on editorial grounds. He insists that revocation is totally different from banning.

As the May elections draw nearer, the government is trying to tighten its grip on the media in order to gain as much control as possible of campaign coverage. The two officially recognised opposition parties, the PPP and the PDI, have repeatedly asked the state-owned television station, TVRI, to be fair when covering political parties' activities.

Harmoko, clad in his yellow Golkar uniform, appears daily on TVRI. Opposition leaders say they can accept the fact that private stations might choose to give more coverage to Golkar than to the opposition, but TVRI is not owned by Golkar - it is owned by the public.