Fri, 21 Mar 2003

Violence peppers Taufik's career

Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

As a journalist for Tempo weekly, Ahmad Taufik endured the hardship of prison life for two years during the Soeharto regime for activism that was deemed subversive.

However, compared to state violence, for Taufik, the savage behavior of people working for business tycoon Tomy Winata toward the magazine was more violent than anything he experienced during the Soeharto era.

He was horrified when about 100 supporters of Tomy, led by the Chinese-Indonesian businessman's right-hand man, David, attacked the magazine's offices on Jl. Proklamasi, Central Jakarta, on March 8. They reportedly threatened to burn down the office and kill people working there after the magazine refused to retract a report in its March 3 edition, which implied that Tomy could profit from a fire that destroyed Tanah Abang market last month. The magazine said that Tomy had proposed a Rp 52 billion renovation plan prior to the fire.

According to Taufik, David, alias A Miauw, threatened to kill him and hit the magazine's chief editor Bambang Harymurti in front of police officers.

"The moment was more horrifying than when my friends and I were arrested by the police and jailed in 1995. At that time we faced police and military officers. But on March 8 we faced thugs," Taufik told The Jakarta Post.

Born on July 12, 1965 in Jakarta, Taufik started his career as a journalist while studying at the School of Law at the Bandung Islamic University (UNISBA) from 1984 to 1990. He was known as an energetic student activist and held the position of chairman of the school's student senate.

As a freelancer while still studying, he wrote about sports for Bola sports weekly, and other articles for Mutiara magazine and Bandung-based daily Pikiran Rakyat.

Later Taufik, who is of Arab descent, worked as a correspondent for the Jakarta-based Muslim-oriented Estafet monthly magazine in Bandung.

He said he would never forget the kindness of Muchtar Effendy Harahap, an editor at Estafet, who recruited him as a reporter and patiently taught him about reporting. It was his first taste of real journalism.

He finished his studies in 1990, a few months after he joined the respected Tempo weekly on an apprenticeship program.

"The rector and the dean persuaded me to finish my studies quickly, not because they were fond of me, but more because they were worried about my antigovernment activities," said Taufik, who calls Soeharto the most hateful person while his former boss, poet Goenawan Mohamad, is his most respected Indonesian.

After working for about four years, Taufik was appointed a full-time reporter for Tempo in April 1994. "However, I was able to enjoy a full salary for only two months," said the journalist, who idolized the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

Angered by Tempo's report on the questionable purchase of 39 used warships from Germany in its June 11, 1994 edition, president Soeharto banned the magazine along with two other publications on June 14, 1994. The procurement of the ships was handled by then state minister of research and technology B.J. Habibie, who later replaced Soeharto as president in May 1998. The warships are still proving to be a headache for the Navy.

Journalists and employees of the closed-down magazine then had to find a way to survive. Many of them joined other publications while hoping that the magazine would be allowed to reopen. However, they had to wait for Soeharto's downfall, and in October 1998 Tempo hit the streets again.

"Life was very tough at that time because we all lost our only source of income," said Taufik.

On Aug. 7, 1994, along with 57 other journalists and activists, Taufik founded the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and was elected its first chairman. AJI then published the Independen newsletter without a permit. Since the government recognized only the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI) as the sole journalist organization, then minister of information Harmoko, the owner of Pos Kota daily, instructed all publications with AJI members in their employ to fire them.

Military and police hunted down the activists. On March 16, 1994, police arrested Taufik, journalist Eko Maryadi and AJI office boy Danang Kukuh Wardoyo. The Central Jakarta District Court sentenced him to three years in prison for sowing hatred against the government and distributing Independen. He appealed at the Jakarta High Court, and finally at the Supreme Court, which reduced his sentence to two years and eight months.

"When I was arrested, my first son Ali Anzi Muntazhar was only nine days old," Taufik recalled. His wife Syafa Illiyin had to take care their child alone.

He spent 57 days in police detention before being moved to Salemba Penitentiary, Central Jakarta, for one year, after which he was moved to Cipinang Penitentiary for five months. He was then moved to Cirebon and Sumedang in West Java.

"One of my favorite pastimes in Salemba was to peep at other inmates making love in the warden's office, which they rented. The women were either their wives or prostitutes. I had to pay Rp 5,000 to peep at them for five minutes," Taufik remembered.

Using a pseudonym, Taufik continued to write articles and reports from prison for several newspapers and magazines. In Cipinang, he interviewed East Timorese Xanana Gusmao, who was jailed by the Indonesian government for rebellious activities. Xanana is now the president of East Timor.

"Xanana is a true leader. When he captained our soccer team he always ordered us to attack our opponents," Taufik said with a big smile.

Taufik was released from prison in July 1997. In November 1997, he received an award from the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists just a few days before Soeharto attended the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vancouver, Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien reportedly offered Taufik political asylum after he was involved in a demonstration against Soeharto in Vancouver.

"I refused the offer because I wanted to struggle for my country from within Indonesia," he hinted.

Six months after his son Muhammad Khatami Aji was born in April 1998, Tempo resumed publication. Taufik has held several positions there, from coordinator of the Jakarta bureau to assistant editor for several desks. Currently he is the head of the national desk.

"I started my career as a journalist. I do not know how long it will last, but I surely love the job," said Taufik.