Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Military troops' brutal assault on journalist in Aceh revealed

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The management of 68H radio news lodged a strong protest on Friday with the martial law administration in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam over an assault the previous day on one of its journalists, Alif Imam Nurlambang, in Panton Luas, South Aceh.

The assault marked the first reported direct physical assault by troops in the province on a journalist.

"We are deeply concerned about the violence perpetrated by the security troops and strongly protest their uncontrolled, violent actions," Santoso, the radio station's president, said in a statement.

He called on both the military and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to respect journalists and allow them to work freely.

"Only if journalists are able to carry out their duties free from the threat of assault or abduction will the public be able to obtain clear and accurate information," Santoso said while referring to the abduction of RCTI TV reporter Erza Siregar and cameraman Ferry Santoro by GAM.

In a written statement, Alif, who has been in Aceh for the past three weeks, said he was assaulted by security forces while interviewing a local resident in her home.

Two military trucks and a car carrying members of the Army's Special Forces, the police's Mobile Brigade and the Marines suddenly arrived. They troops kicked down the door and pulled Alif and Jaka Rasyid, his guide, out of the house.

Alif identified himself as a journalist, but the troops ignored his protestations. He was later beaten and kicked by around five of the soldiers, one of whom hit him in the back with an M-16 rifle.

The military could not be reached for comment over the incident.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) sent letters of complaint to GAM and the Indonesian Military (TNI) respectively over the abduction of the RCTI journalists.

The IFJ is an international organization representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide.

In a letter to Hasan Tiro, the GAM leader, who lives in exile in Sweden, the IFJ called on the group to immediately release the journalists, who are currently being held hostage in East Aceh.

"The IFJ reminds GAM that journalists are independent citizens and cannot be held responsible for the policies and actions of any group involved in the conflict in Aceh. It is an indefensible response to use journalists and the media as pawns in this conflict," said Christopher Warren, the IFJ president, in a statement.

The IFJ also called on GAM to immediately cease its attacks on and threats against journalists in Aceh.

Meanwhile, in a letter to TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, the IFJ requested the military not to launch an operation to release Erza and Ferry as it could endanger their lives.

"The IFJ believes that if the Indonesian military were to launch an offensive in East Aceh, the journalists' lives may be in great danger. Accordingly, we call on you not to launch a military attack to release them, but wait for a negotiated settlement for their release," it said.

Erza and Ferry went missing on June 29 while on assignment in Langsa, Aceh. GAM has admitted that it is holding both journalists in East Aceh.

In its letters to the two warring sides, the IFJ also expressed "grave concern about the restrictions on reporting in Aceh."

The military has issued a series of regulations that restrict journalists from covering the conflict in Aceh freely. These have sparked concerns in both the local and international media.