Wed, 09 Jul 2003

Journalists questioned over `RCTI'

A'an Suryana and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Lhokseumawe/Jakarta

North Aceh Police summoned on Tuesday journalists, who met with RCTI reporter Ersa Siregar and others on Sunday at a separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) base at Peureulak district, North Aceh, in an apparent move to place criminal charges against Ersa.

The journalists were questioned as witnesses in a case built against Ersa, following a report from Lt. Col. Azhari, whose wife Syafrida traveled with Ersa and his team from Lhokseumawe to Langsa, which ended in a hostage drama.

Ersa, his cameraman Ferry Santoro, Syafrida, her sister Soraya and driver Rachmansyah were still with GAM rebels as of Tuesday evening.

In his report to the North Aceh Police last week, Azhari accused Ersa of taking away Syafrida without his consent.

To follow up the case, the police questioned a group of journalists who met with Ersa and the four others in an unidentified location in Peureulak on Sunday.

"The journalists were summoned as witnesses in the case," First. Insp. Afriadi Lesmana, the chief of North Aceh Police detectives, told reporters in Lhokseumawe.

The four journalists summoned were Gustav Roberto of private television station Indosiar, Anggi Mulya Makmur of TV-7TV station and Orin Basuki of Kompas daily. RCTI deputy chief editor Iman Wachjudi was previously questioned by North Aceh Police on Monday night, on the same day the TV station screened the meeting.

The meeting was also publicized by the print media.

The military is apparently angered by the wide coverage of the meeting in the national media.

Gustav said that he was questioned by North Aceh Police detectives from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. while Anggi said that during the questioning, he was asked to explain in chronological order how he and other journalists met Ersa and group and their communications with rebels in arranging the meeting.

"Besides, we were also questioned on why Syafrida and Soraya joined Ersa's group," Anggi said.

The status of Ersa in the eyes of the police remains unclear.

Afriadi said, however, that the police would summon another witness Effendy Soen who met Ersa and others somewhere in Peureulak district, shortly before Ersa went missing on June 29.

He added that he was not sure when the case would be brought to court.

In Jakarta, Indonesian Military Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto expressed confusion over the meeting's exposure by the national media, saying he was skeptical of the TV crew's abduction because the meeting was arranged so easily.

"We initially believed that Ersa and others were being held hostage by GAM and therefore we were preparing efforts to free them. But, now, I am skeptical about the abduction because the journalists were able to meet the kidnapped TV crew so easily," he said on the sidelines of a hearing with the House of Representatives.

The military gave GAM the deadline of 6 p.m. on Tuesday to release the hostages, otherwise the rebels would be in "a difficult situation". The deadline was made following the discovery of the RCTI Kijang minivan in a oil palm plantation in Peureulak over the weekend.