INDONESIA: Aceh tabloid forced to close

Pressure on the press in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam has claimed another victim after the Indonesian Military (TNI) allegedly forced a local biweekly tabloid to stop publishing in the war-torn province

The Jakarta Post
Friday, December 12, 2003

By Nani Farida and Teuku Agam Muzakir

Pressure on the press in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam has claimed another victim after the Indonesian Military (TNI) allegedly forced a local biweekly tabloid to stop publishing in the war-torn province.

Beudoh published its last edition late last month. It first appeared in March, two months before Aceh was placed under martial law by the central government.

Chief editor Maarif said the decision was made after military officials asked him to change the tabloid's editorial standpoint, which they said opposed the military operation.

He said he was summoned for interrogation last Friday by the martial law authorities in relation to several of the tabloid's stories deemed to have offended them.

Maarif, 25, said at least eight intelligence officers questioned him for 10 hours.

"Of course, to change the tabloid's standpoint is impossible because it is against our policy," he said.

He said the military also asked the tabloid to make a public apology and sign a letter to declare that he had carried false reports in the publication.

"The letter must also note that if someday I make similar mistakes again, I have to be ready to stand trial," Maarif told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Martial law authority spokesman Col. Ditya Soedarsono denied the military had banned the tabloid from publishing.

"We (the military and Maarif) just held talks to discuss a story in the tabloid's last edition," he claimed.

Ditya was referring to the story entitled The Acehnese people do not need elections, which criticized the government's decision in November to extend martial law and questioned the legitimacy of next year's elections in Aceh under the emergency status.

"We consider that the story was provocative because it compiles opinions of people opposed to martial law," he said.

He was apparently referring to Jakarta-based labor leader Dita Indah Sari.

Beudoh is staffed by five journalists aged in their 20s. All are former activists at the state-run Syah Kuala University and the Ar-Raniri State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN).

As of November, the tabloid had published only eight editions.

Many have highlighted strong pressure on journalists who have been covering the conflict in Aceh. They blamed both the military and separatist rebels for failing to prevent constant intimidation of the press for their respective political interests.

The rebels are blamed for holding RCTI's reporter Ersa Siregar and cameraman Ferry Santoro hostage since June 29. Their whereabouts remains unclear.

Earlier, TVRI cameraman Jamaluddin was found dead in Aceh after he went missing several days earlier.

In the latest development, the bodies of two Mobile Brigade (Brimob) policemen who died in an accident on Wednesday while escorting noted Muslim preacher Abdullah "Aa Gym" Gymnastiar during his visit to Aceh, were flown to their hometowns in Java.

The dead were First Brig. Sukijan and Second Brig. Eko Sutikno. Seven other policemen injured in the accident are being treated at a local hospital.

The fatal accident occurred when a speeding truck carrying dozens of police personnel overturned on a slippery road in Pidie regency.