Monday, July 21, 2003

Indonesian military hems in press on Aceh

By A. Lin Neumann
Asia Times Online

Jakarta - Using tactics inspired by the US military during the war in Iraq, the Indonesian military is keeping the domestic press under control and virtually barring foreign correspondents from covering the ongoing military offensive against separatist rebels in the northern province of Aceh.

The current military operation, which began on May 19 when a six-month ceasefire collapsed and martial law was declared, is the largest staged by Indonesia since it seized East Timor in 1975. With 50,000 troops on the ground to combat some 5,000 guerrillas, the offensive began in "shock and awe" fashion, with scripted parachute drops and fighter planes screaming across the skies for the television cameras.

The government confidently proclaimed that the rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (known by the Indonesian acronym GAM, for Gerakin Aceh Merdeka) would be defeated in six months, marking an end to an insurgency that began in the mid-1970s. But the war is dragging on and less information than ever is coming out of Aceh.

Journalists and diplomats complain that a policy of embedding local journalists with military units, combined with bans on reporting the rebel side of the conflict and official appeals to patriotism, have stifled coverage of the conflict. The Indonesian military has introduced progressively tougher restrictions and has issued pointed suggestions aimed at ensuring compliant
media. Local reporters are given a military training course before being embedded with combat units, just as reporters with US troops were before the Iraq war. The domestic media have also been told that it is their duty as Indonesians to support the military effort.

"The pressure is very strong to be pro-military," says Andreas Harsono, a veteran Indonesian journalist. "It's like a huge wave of nationalism and the media [are] swept up in it."

In another echo of the Iraq war, leaders openly appeal to reporters' patriotism. "In solving the Aceh case, public support plays a major role. If Indonesian media report news coming from GAM, we should question the depth of their nationalism," military chief General Endriartono Sutarto told reporters early in the conflict.

State Communications and Information Minister Syamsul Mu'arif told journalists recently that printing information from GAM rebels is unpatriotic. "We ask the media to be wise. Frankly, publishing statements from GAM will only hamper the [military] operation and alienate the TNI from the people."

Foreign reporters, meanwhile, in recent weeks, have scarcely been allowed into the province at all.

"These regulations were sent to us by the US Pacific Command. It is what they used in Iraq," Major-General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin, chief of information for the Indonesian Armed Forces (known by the Indonesian abbreviation TNI, for Tentera
Nasional Indonesia), told foreign reporters at a press briefing on June 20 to unveil formally the tight regulations on foreign journalists trying to cover Aceh. "Of course, we have adapted them to our local environment."

Sjafrie said that foreign reporters are barred from being embedded with military units, and that the press must inform the military of all their movements in the province. In addition, reporters are prohibited from publishing "enemy propaganda". Asked for clarification, he defined enemy propaganda as "trying to improve the GAM's image in front of the public. That
is not okay" in news reports, he said.

Before going to Aceh, foreign journalists must secure permission in writing from both the Foreign Affairs Department and the Justice Department. Only after journalists have these two documents can they fly to Aceh. Then, upon arrival, they must register with both the police and the military to receive further clearances. The process can take weeks and still lead nowhere, according to reporters who have been trying to get into Aceh unsuccessfully since the restrictions were announced.

Local military commanders have toughened the various regulations. Major-General Endang Suwarya, Aceh's martial-law administrator, issued a decree that all foreigners must enter and leave the province through Aceh's capital, Banda Aceh, making it illegal for foreigners to enter the province by road. Foreign visitors are also banned from traveling outside the provincial capital and other major cities.

The Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) wrote a letter of complaint on June 26 to Indonesian officials about the mounting number of restrictions, stating that "a series of delays and constantly changing government and military rulings [are] in fact preventing foreign media access to Aceh". The association noted that, despite numerous meetings with officials to try to work out a way to cover the story, regulations were making it extremely difficult. "We find it hard not to conclude that there is a concerted effort to permanently impose severe restrictions on foreign media from reporting on the integrated operation in Aceh," the letter stated.

Even diplomats must secure special permission to visit Aceh, so many embassies claim to have little direct information about what is happening with the war. "They aren't letting us up there and they don't tell us much," said one senior diplomat in Jakarta.

One reason things have gotten so tough may be military anger at US freelance journalist William Nessen, who traveled for several weeks with GAM guerrillas, infuriating commanders. The military ordered Nessen to surrender, claiming that he was a GAM sympathizer. Nessen, who was accredited to write from Indonesia for the San Francisco Chronicle, claimed to be writing a book about the Aceh conflict and gathering material for a documentary. Fearing for his life, however, Nessen turned himself over to Sjafrie and a US Embassy representative on June 24. He was arrested and is now detained in Aceh on alleged immigration violations.

But there is more to the restrictions than simple anger over a freelancer. At stake, some believe, is Indonesia's world image. The TNI already has a reputation for brutality. The more that public scrutiny can be kept away from the battlefield - and away from potential human-rights abuses - the less chance there is for widespread international condemnation of the current offensive.

The latest restrictions contrast with the very early days of the current conflict, when it was fairly easy for the foreign press to enter Aceh and move with relative freedom around the province, despite the inherent danger of working in a war zone. A number of critical stories were written about civilian casualties and apparent human-rights abuses, and access was shut off. "In practice, since these regulations came out, no one is getting into Aceh," says a Jakarta-based foreign correspondent. "So now covering the story is a hit-or-miss thing. You can't rely on what the TNI says, and you can't trust what GAM says either, and you can't see for yourself."

For Indonesian journalists, the dilemma is somewhat different but no less worrisome. Those covering the conflict as "embeds" get nearly all of their information from military sources. In exchange, they are given a seven-day military training course, and are allowed on limited military operations. Indonesian military officials say the policy has made the current Aceh war more transparent than any previous military operation.

The policy may be working. Many observers say the war in Aceh is popular with the Indonesian public, who fear the breakup of their country and may still be stung by the loss of East Timor in 1999. "It is important to safeguard the territorial integrity of the state. [Indonesians] really believe that," says Riza Primadi, the news director of TransTV. "So appeals to patriotism have an impact even on the media. A lot of [journalists] saw the occupation of East Timor as illegal, but Aceh has always been part of Indonesia. The Acehnese were leaders in our struggle against the Dutch. We do not want our country to disintegrate."

Journalists in Aceh are also caught between the two sides and are at great risk of attack or worse. In several instances early in the campaign, unidentified gunmen shot at journalists as they drove through the province. One journalist has been killed, others beaten and a TV crew from a local network taken hostage by GAM rebels.

The situation in Aceh looks set to be a protracted and messy guerrilla struggle. Recently the military announced that the campaign against the rebels will likely continue much longer than the originally projected six months, leaving open the prospect that Indonesia's fragile democracy may have a semi-permanent military regime acting within its borders for months, even years, to come.

With journalists subject to military pressure, and foreigners unable to travel in Aceh, learning anything of substance about the conflict is almost impossible.

"My religion is journalism, that is also my nationality," says Harsono. "I can be a good anak bangsa [son of the nation] if I can report both sides of the conflict. But right now they are not allowing that to happen."

-- A Lin Neumann is the Asia consultant for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

(Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Nasionalisme dan Jurnalisme

Jumat malam lalu saya diundang Metro TV untuk muncul dalam siaran bincang-bincang dengan Hersubeno Arief tentang Aceh dan jurnalisme. Ini semacam pendidikan publik. Saya menjelaskan prinsip-prinsip yang dikenal sebagai "sembilan elemen jurnalisme" ala Bill Kovach dan Tom Rosenstiel. Seorang wartawan harus bisa mewawancarai sebanyak mungkin pihak. Dalam masalah Aceh, seorang wartawan harus mewawancarai baik pihak tentara maupun gerilyawan.

Saya merasa terganggu dengan banyaknya halangan yang diciptakan pemerintah terhadap media. Banyak juga warga yang minta wartawan bersikap "nasionalis" atau "merah putih." Banyak telepon masuk. Saya dinilai tidak nasionalis. Chik Rini, rekan saya dari Aceh, yang menonton program ini, geli mendengar tuduhan itu pada diri saya.

Hersubeno Arief, pembawa acara ini, tanya apa saya tak takut kalau dituduh tidak nasionalis? Tidakkah wartawan Indonesia harus membela "Indonesia" dan tak mewawancarai pihak Aceh Merdeka?

Saya jawab, "Nggak apa-apa dituduh tidak nasionalis. Tugas saya adalah menyajikan kebenaran kepada para warga agar mereka bisa mengambil keputusan yang benar tentang Aceh."

Pelayanan ini akan bisa bermutu bila wartawan bisa mendekati sebanyak mungkin sumber. Kalau seorang wartawan diminta memperhatikan status dirinya sebagai seorang "anak bangsa" dalam liputan Aceh, saya kuatir, wartawan-wartawan kita tak bisa bekerja dengan baik.

Implikasi dari permintaan ini adalah kita juga harus membela kelompok-kelompok lain di mana kita dianggap berada di dalamnya. Misalnya, saya warga Indonesia keturunan Tionghoa, lahir dalam keluarga Kristen Protestan, besar di sekolah-sekolah Katholik, belajar dan percaya pada sosialisme, saat pemilihan umum mencoblos atau tidak mencoblos partai tertentu, bahkan pernah belajar di Amerika Serikat. Apakah ini artinya, saya juga harus membela siapa pun yang dianggap Tionghoa? Apakah saya juga harus membela apa yang disebut "Kristen"? Apakah saya juga harus bias terhadap ideologi tertentu? Membela partai politik tertentu? Membela Amerika Serikat? Kalau permintaan itu ditururi, saya kira, jurnalisme tidak akan jalan! Kristen yang mana? Tionghoa yang mana? Partai politik pun punya banyak faksi? Apalagi apa yang disebut sebagai "Indonesia"? Amerika Serikat apalagi?

Saya percaya jurnalisme justru berkembang ketika ia mengembangkan metode di mana bias seorang wartawan --entah etnik, agama, pendidikan, kewarganegaraan-- bisa diatasi lewat prosedur dan mekanisme kerja a.l. cover both sides, verifikasi dan sebagainya. Kok sekarang wartawan malah disuruh memperlihatkan bias kebangsaannya dalam liputan Aceh?

Keputusan Gustav Roberto dari Indosiar, Anggi Mulya Makmur dari TV-7, Orin Basuki dari Kompas, dan Imam Wahyudi dari RCTI untuk mewawancarai Erza Siregar dan rombongan mereka adalah salah satu cerminan prosedur kerja ini. Mereka masuk hutan dan cari berita. Ini bukan tindakan yang salah. Kenapa mereka malah diinterogasi polisi?

Bill Kovach mengatakan wartawan bisa disamakan dengan kerja dokter di medan pertempuran. Kalau si dokter merawat gerilyawan GAM tak berarti si dokter bukan warga negara Indonesia yang baik bukan? Dokter ini justru menjalankan tanggungjawabnya sebagai warga negara Indonesia dengan sebaik-baiknya ketika dia mengabdi pada tanggungjawabnya sebagai dokter.

Atau pengacara yang membela terdakwa teroris macam Amrozi, Abdul Azis, Mukhlas, Abubakar Ba'asyir, dan sebagainya. Mereka justru menjalankan tugas mereka sebagai pengacara, sekaligus juga jadi warga negara yang baik, tanpa perlu dituduh berpihak pada teroris yang ingin menggantikan negara Republik Indonesia ini dengan "Daulah Islamiyah." Contoh sama terjadi pada Yap Thiam Hien ketika membela Soebandrio pada 1966. Padahal Partai Komunis Indonesia dianggap bertanggungjawab hendak menjatuhkan rezim Presiden Soekarno. Bayangkan kalau para pengacara dinilai tak nasionalis?

Saya ingin sedikit sumbang pikiran. Tanggungjawab kita sebagai wartawan kini memang sedang berat-beratnya. Kita bisa disalahmengerti. Kita bisa dituduh macam-macam. Tapi bagi seorang wartawan, dia harus mendahulukan jurnalisme. Agamanya, kewarganegaraannya, kebangsaannya, ideologinya, latar belakang sosial, etnik, dan sebagainya, harus dia tinggalkan di rumah begitu dia keluar dari pintu rumah dan jadi wartawan.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

The Old and the New Nationalism: Jakarta and Aceh

American Reporter July 2, 2003

by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- I left Jakarta for Banda Aceh earlier this month with a big question in my mind: When does one expression of nationalism become old, probably senile and irrelevant - and when is a new one strong, vigorous and relevant?

The answer may not come easily, not in Jakarta, where an old tradition of nationalism is slowly burning out even amid a busy campaign to maintain "the unity of Indonesia." But the answer may not be found in Banda Aceh, either. In this languid capital of Aceh, a new flag of nationalism is also being raised.

The older nationalism began in October 1928, when a group of well-educated young men gathered in Batavia - the Dutch colonial name for Jakarta - to formulate a new nationalism on behalf of their different ethic organizations - Javanese, Sundanese, Ambonese, and more.

"We should be united, we should be strong," said one young man.

The Dutch agents who secretly monitored the meeting, indeed, did not call them "nationalists" - instead they used the word "extremists" and considered them a threat to the "motherland" far away in Holland in the much older Europe.

Finally, those young men produced a joint declaration: "We're the youth of Indonesia; we pledge to have a single tanah air, the tanah air of Indonesia, a single bangsa (nation) which is the nation of Indonesia, a single bahasa (language) which is Bahasa Indonesia."

The literal translation of the phrase "tanah air" is "land and water." It was a phrase used for security reason in place of the word "state. Those freedom fighters planned to kick the Dutch out of their "Indonesia." They thought a new state was needed and for it a new nationalism to whip up popular sentiment against the white-skinned, blond-haired and foreign Dutch.

Twenty years later, in August 1945, those men finally managed to declare a new state. One of them, whose name was Sukarno, the eldest son of a Balinese mother and a Javanese father, became the first president of the Republic of Indonesia.

A new state. A new nation. A new language.

But Indonesia, unfortunately, was not a working democracy. Justice was not immediately experienced in the new republic - and is not even today. There is no social welfare. No guarantees of press freedom. No human rights. And no dignity. Indonesia became, to paraphrase U.N. bureaucrats, a "developing country," a part of the "Third World."

People were still poor and frequently harrassed by the Indonesian military. The rich became richer. The gap between the poor and the rich widened. In Aceh, in 1953, a "rebellion" was broken up. The traditionally stubborn people of Aceh demanded that President Sukarno recognize their cultural values. Sukarno relented and ended the dispute in 1961.

But a new movement, a more serious one, broke up again in 1976 when a Hasan di Tiro, a political scientist with a doctorate from Columbia University, declared independence in Aceh. Di Tiro established an effective guerilla network, trained his soldiers in Libya, and maintains his position as walinegara or head of state, from self-exile in Sweden. He wants to see the ancient Aceh sultanate revived.

Hasan di Tiro disliked Sukarno and for him, the phrases "bangsa Jawa" and "bangsa Acheh" are a contradiction. He hated the political construction of "Indonesia" and even used a different spelling ("Acheh" rather "Aceh"). He described Indonesia as "a Javanese republic with a Greek pseudo-name."

But Hasan di Tiro sure does sounds like Sukarno. He has whipped up a nationalist sentiment among the Acehnese. Java and Aceh. Jakarta and Banda Aceh. Us and them.

If only Sukarno and di Tiro were more sincere, they might agree that there is no "bangsa Aceh" nor any "bangsa Indonesia." If they only wanted to deal with practicalities, such as peace, social welfare, and education, the killing of more than 10,000 Acehnese over the last 20 years probably would not have happened. Aceh today is indeed emroiled in the the clash of an old and a new nationalism.

A nation, according to the political scientist Benedict Anderson, is "an imagined community."

A real community by definition is a place where its members are aware of each other. In his classic, "Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism," Anderson argued that inside a nation-state, even over a lifetime, members of this imagined community do not come to know a substantial number of other members. It is only through the media that they acquire a sense of belonging to this larger group. Thus, a nation is an aim rather a product.

Here in Banda Aceh, French-trained social scientist Hakim Nyak Pha at the Syiah Kuala University offered me this question: When does one nationalism become old and irrelevant, and a new one grow strong, vigorous and relevant?

The answer, according to Hakim, is "When the Jakarta government is more troubled about its territorial integrity rather than the people who live there."

Jakarta today is more worried about its borders than winning the hearts and minds of the Acehnese people. Jakarta declared martial law, harrassed many Acehnese, allowed their schools to be burned, and generally made their lives more difficult, all in the name of unity - to be precise, territorial unity.

If a government wins the hearts and minds of a people, Hakim explained, the old nationalism is okay. "Their lands, their properties, their wealth, their wives, their children, their relatives, and their love will go with them. Even if we kick them in the buttock, they won't leave us," Hakim said, with a big laugh.

Now what?

Hakim is afraid that Jakarta will not do that. He's also worried about rising unemployment, discrimination, violence, declining educational quality, business investment, growing poverty and other complicated social problems.

Maybe, he suggests, Jakarta is now acting as the Dutch acted back in 1928. This war is going to create a social and psychological burden for the Acehnese. Journalists and international NGOs are barred from entering Aceh. And the old nationalism is very likely to find itself more and more irrelevant.

AR Indonesia Correspondent Andreas Harsono, a Nieman International Fellow at Harvard University in 1999-2000, has written on Indonesian issues for AR since 1996. Contact him at