Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Indonesia
|Publisher||Committee to Protect Journalists|
|Publication Date||February 2004|
|Cite as||Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Indonesia, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566a53a.html [accessed 5 May 2015]|
Indonesia's press freedom climate remains fragile, without the constitutional and legal safeguards necessary to guarantee journalists' safety and access to information. In 2003, military restrictions on reporters' access to conflict areas and harsh lawsuits presented the greatest threat to the media since former dictator Suharto was ousted in 1998.
Despite operating under a reform-minded press law passed in 1999, the Indonesian media still must run a gauntlet of other restrictive, colonial-era laws. Powerful business and political leaders routinely bring criminal libel charges against journalists, forcing them to face the possibility of jail time for their reporting. In addition, military authorities have demonstrated their eagerness to restrict press access in the name of national security. Legislators have resisted repealing a host of colonial-era laws that affect the press, and efforts to push through a constitutional amendment guaranteeing press freedom have gone nowhere.
One of Indonesia's most respected publications, Tempo magazine, and several of its staff members are battling libel charges brought by powerful businessman Tomy Winata, one of the country's wealthiest entrepreneurs. The charges stemmed from a March 3 story citing allegations that Tomy, who goes by his first name, stood to profit from a fire in Jakarta's sprawling Tanah Abang textile market in February and raising questions about his possible involvement in the blaze. The piece included a statement from Tomy denying the allegation. The article also reported on an alleged proposal the tycoon had made to Jakarta officials to renovate the huge market at government expense, which Tomy denies as well.
Shortly after the Tempo piece appeared, and one day after the magazine received a written complaint from Tomy's lawyers, some 200 people from a pro-government youth group supporting the tycoon attempted to force their way into Tempo's offices, saying they intended to burn down the building. Police initially stood by and watched before turning away the mob.
Tempo Chief Editor Bambang Harymurti, Editor Iskandar Ali, and reporter Ahmad Taufik were charged with criminal defamation, punishable by up to four years in prison, and with "publishing an article that could cause unrest," punishable by up to eight years.
In a bizarre twist, Tomy also brought charges against one of the magazine's co-founders, Goenawan Mohamad, after he made a statement about the suit urging that the country not be allowed to fall into the hands of criminals. After a September hearing in the case against Goenawan, a Jakarta court ordered his private house confiscated as collateral against possible damages, although he has been allowed to continue living in it. The highly unusual move was widely denounced as harassment, especially since Goenawan, one of Indonesia's most prominent media figures, is no longer involved in Tempo's operations.
With Goenawan's trial under way, the complex case is certain to drag on well into 2004, but the message has been clear to most observers from the start: The government may no longer directly attack the press, but business interests angered by the independent media's investigations into their operations can rely on punitive laws and weak courts to harass journalists.
The choice of Tempo as a target is particularly ironic. The magazine, founded in 1971, was twice closed by the Suharto regime, most recently in 1994. Its 1998 reopening was taken as a sure sign that press freedom had been restored. Two of those embroiled in the current case are longtime heroes of Indonesia's press freedom struggle. Taufik was arrested in 1994 and imprisoned for three years for publishing an underground magazine protesting Suharto's clampdown on the press. Goenawan, in addition to founding the magazine, is the key figure behind an entire generation of journalists who have changed the face of the profession in Indonesia. Both men received CPJ's International Press Freedom award – Taufik from prison in 1994, and Goenawan in 1998.
In October, editor Supratman (like many Indonesians, he uses only one name) faced the wrath of Indonesia's legal system when police charged him with insulting President Megawati Sukarnoputri in the extremely popular tabloid Rakya Merdeka. In banner headlines and raunchy cartoons, the paper compared the president to a cannibal and accused her of corruption during a series of protests against fuel-price hikes in early 2003. Under outdated "insult" laws inherited from Indonesia's Dutch colonial rulers, Supratman received a six-month suspended prison sentence.
Following his sentencing, Supratman said the verdict would force him to use self-censorship to survive. "We can no longer use these types of headlines to lambaste the country's leaders," he said. "It's a step backward for the country's press freedom."
Only a month earlier, the same court had sentenced Rakyat Merdeka's former editor, Karim Paputungan, to a five-month suspended sentence for publishing an allegedly defamatory cartoon of Parliament Speaker Akbar Tandjung, who was convicted of corruption in 2002 but refused to leave office.
The press's troubles were hardly confined to the courtroom, however. Military authorities launched an offensive against separatist rebels in restive Aceh Province in May and have since pursued a strict policy of controlling access to the conflict. Borrowing directly from the U.S. script in Iraq, the military embedded local reporters with units and tried to prevent others from covering the war.
As soon as the offensive began, military authorities ordered the local press not to print statements from the rebel Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym, GAM. Armed forces chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto met with editors of major newspapers and broadcast outlets to rally patriotic support for the offensive. "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," Endriartono told reporters after the meeting. The military threatened lawsuits against newspapers that published early reports of military atrocities in the campaign, according to The Jakarta Post.
Shortly after the offensive began and negative publicity began to appear in the foreign press, foreign reporters found themselves virtually shut out of the conflict. They had to apply for special permission from a number of government agencies to venture into Aceh, and many were banned from the province. Those who did make it to Aceh were told to stay in major cities or risk arrest. Reporters were officially banned from contacting rebels or visiting rebel areas
"These regulations were sent to us by the U.S. Pacific Command. It is what they used in Iraq," Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsuddin, chief of information for the Indonesian armed forces, told foreign reporters at a press briefing in Jakarta on June 20 to formally unveil the tight restrictions. "Of course, we have adapted them to our local environment."
U.S. freelance reporter William Nessen violated the restrictions by covering the war from the rebel side. He was with the rebels when the offensive started and remained with the insurgents for several weeks. Nessen, who writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications, surrendered to Indonesian military authorities in June after facing death threats from local army commanders. He was arrested, jailed, convicted of visa violations, and sentenced to time served, one month and 10 days, before being deported on August 4.
2003 Documented Cases – Indonesia
MARCH 7, 2003
Bambang Harymurti, Tempo
Ahmad Taufik, Tempo
Tempo magazine received a letter from the lawyer of businessman Tomy Winata threatening libel action over an article published in the magazine's March 3 edition. The article, written by reporter Taufik, cited allegations that Winata stood to profit from a February fire that had destroyed the Tanah Abang textile market in the capital, Jakarta, and that he might be responsible for the blaze. The article also included a statement from Winata denying the allegations.
On March 27, police summoned editor Harymurti for questioning after Winata filed criminal complaints against the magazine. Authorities charged Harymurti with libel and defamation under Articles 310 and 311 of the Criminal Code, which carry a maximum penalty of four years in prison. He is also charged with violating Article 5(1) of the Press Law, which requires the media to respect religious and moral norms and carries a maximum fine of 500 million rupiahs (US$56,000). The same three charges were later filed against Taufik.
On April 5, police questioned Taufik for 11 hours about the case. Four other journalists from Tempo have also been questioned in the case. Harymurti and Taufik stand by the accuracy of the Tempo story and refuse to issue an apology to Winata or to divulge their sources, as Winata's supporters have demanded. Hearings in the case are ongoing.
MARCH 8, 2003
Ahmad Taufik, Tempo
ATTACKED, LEGAL ACTION
Bambang Harymurti, Tempo
Karaniya Dharmasaputra, Tempo
Abdul Manan, Tempo
A group of more than 100 men gathered in front of the Tempo offices in the capital, Jakarta, to protest an article published in the magazine's March 3 edition. The article, written by reporter Taufik, cited allegations that businessman Tomy Winata stood to profit from a February fire that had destroyed the Tanah Abang textile market in Jakarta, and that he might be responsible for the blaze.
After Taufik went outside to address the protesters, they pulled him into the crowd and assaulted him, according to Taufik. With the help of a police officer, the journalist invited several protesters into the offices to discuss the issue with other Tempo staff members. Once inside, the protesters continued verbally and physically abusing the journalists. Reporter Manan was injured when a protester threw a wooden box at him.
Several Tempo employees and protesters subsequently went to the police station to negotiate peacefully. While waiting at the station, protesters hit editor Harymurti and reporter Dharmasaputra. The two were beaten in the presence of police officers, who did not intervene, according to witnesses. Following the meeting at the police station, both sides signed an agreement that the matter would be resolved through legal channels. In the agreement, one of the protesters, a man named David Tjoie, "explicitly admitted that he was representing Tomy Winata," according to Taufik.
Following the incident, Tjoie and Hidayat Lukman, also known as Teddy Uban, were charged with assault and "encouraging others into acts of violence." In July, Tjoie was acquitted, and Lukman was sentenced to a five-month suspended sentence.
In early April, the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) filed a lawsuit against the police, charging them with negligence for failing to stop the attack on the Tempo offices and journalists. On October 6, the Central District Court ruled in favor of AJI and ordered the police to apologize to the journalists publicly. The police's lawyers have filed an appeal.
Winata filed a civil libel suit against Taufik and Tempo in June after Taufik wrote and distributed online a detailed account of the March 8 attack on Tempo and the journalists. In the statement, Taufik also wrote that Winata owned gambling dens and entertainment halls. Winata is seeking 120,000 billion rupiah (US$14.6 million) in damages.
MAY 20, 2003
All media, Aceh
ON May 19, the Indonesian government declared martial law in restive Aceh Province and launched a massive military offensive to crush the separatist Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym, GAM. The next day, Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, the military commander and head of the martial law administration in Aceh, warned journalists that they should neither report on statements issued by GAM leaders nor carry news that supports the separatist cause. "There should be no reports from GAM and reports that praise GAM," Suwarya said, according to Agence France-Presse.
The major general also ordered journalists to adjust their coverage. "I want all news published to contain the spirit of nationalism," he said, according to the national, English-language daily Jakarta Post. "Put the interests of the unitary state of Indonesia first."
Indonesian journalists have protested the statements, noting that such policies not only violate their right to press freedom but also seriously endanger their safety. "The media's credibility and journalists' safety in conflict areas can only be guaranteed if there is fair and impartial coverage, not one-sided propaganda," said the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists.
Mohamad Jamal, TVRI
KILLED – UNCONFIRMED
Jamal, a cameraman for the Indonesian state broadcast network TVRI, was kidnapped on May 20 by unidentified gunmen at his office in Banda Aceh, the administrative center of strife-torn Aceh Province. Though the journalist was abducted just one day after the launch of a major Indonesian military offensive to crush the separatist rebellion in Aceh, it was not clear why he was targeted.
A military spokesman told Reuters news agency that Jamal's body was found in a river on June 17. Other witnesses said that Jamal's eyes and mouth had been covered with duct tape, his hands bound with a nylon cord, and that a noose lashed to a boulder was tied around his neck, according to Reuters. The motive behind his kidnapping and murder remains unknown, but CPJ continues to investigate the incident.
JUNE 16, 2003
HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION
While the Indonesian military's campaign against the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels intensified in war-torn Aceh Province in June, President Megawati Sukarnoputri signed presidential decree 43/2003, tightly restricting foreign journalists' and nongovernmental workers' access to the region. The decree also regulates local journalists' activities in Aceh. Subsequently, the government issued additional tough restrictions regulating journalists' movements and the content of their reports from the region.
The decree requires both foreign and local journalists to apply for new permits to work legally in Aceh. In addition, foreign journalists are required to get permission from the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs before traveling to Aceh – a lengthy bureaucratic requirement that effectively banned many from getting to Aceh – and local journalists are required to get approval from the provincial martial law authority to work in the region.
A week after the decree was issued, the martial law authority in Aceh announced further restrictions on the media. All foreign journalists and locals working for foreign media were restricted to Aceh's main towns. Journalists approved to work in Aceh were also required to inform military commanders of their movements in every place from which they reported. Journalists who refused to do so faced not only prosecution and being banned from reporting in Aceh but also removal from the region within 24 hours.
Chief of the Indonesian military Endriartono Sutarto said that the strict procedures were intended to protect journalists. But they have limited journalists' ability to report on the war firsthand, forcing them to rely on military-issued statements, some of which have, in the past, contradicted local Aceh residents' accounts of events.
Journalists are also required to sign an affidavit saying that they are liable for their own safety. The decree also barred all foreigners from communicating with GAM members.
The presidential decree came while military authorities were trying to persuade U.S. freelance journalist William Nessen to leave the GAM rebels he was traveling with in Aceh. Nessen, who spent a month with the rebels, eventually surrendered on June 25 and was charged with immigration violations. He was convicted and deported from Indonesia in August.
JUNE 17, 2003
Peggy Sampouw, Manado Post
Sampouw, a journalist for the Indonesian-language daily Manado Post, based in the province of North Sulawesi, was assaulted by a civil servant at the Manado mayor's office. "A civil servant at the mayoralty office hit my face three times. He shouted while he was hitting me not to run 'certain articles,' " Sampouw told the Jakarta Post. The journalist suffered injuries to her face, including bruised and bleeding lips.
The attack appeared to come in reprisal for reports by Sampouw detailing a corruption scandal involving the mayor's wife, according to Remon Pasla, head of the local branch of the Alliance of Independent Journalists.
JUNE 26, 2003
Takagi Tadatomo, freelance
Indonesian military authorities in the country's war-torn Aceh Province detained Japanese photographer Tadatomo for taking photographs without proper accreditation and for traveling to the area on a tourist visa. Tadatomo, who was photographing refugees fleeing the fighting between rebels and government forces, was released and deported from Aceh on June 29. The 25-year-old photographer left Medan, the capital of neighboring North Sumatra Province, on a morning flight to Singapore.
According to news reports, Tadatomo was held in police custody for two nights before immigration officials transferred him to Medan on June 28.
JUNE 29, 2003
Updated: May 19, 2004
Ersa Siregar, RCTI
Fery Santoro, RCTI
Siregar, a senior reporter for Indonesia's privately owned RCTI television station, and Santoro, an RCTI cameraman, were taken hostage by rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (known by its Indonesian acronym, GAM) in the northwestern province of Aceh, where a massive Indonesian military offensive was launched May 19 to crush a long-running separatist insurgency by the rebels.
At around 4 p.m., Siregar called an RCTI reporter in the town of Lhokseumawe, in northern Aceh, to say that the two journalists were on their way there from Langsa, a town in the eastern part of the province, and should arrive by around 8 p.m. that night. However, the two journalists never arrived. On July 3, Tengku Mansur, a spokesman for GAM in East Aceh, announced that GAM members were holding the RCTI team and their driver, Rachmansyah (who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name), along with two civilians.
"The reason that we are holding them for questioning is that the Indonesian military have been using the press to conduct intelligence operations in Aceh," Mansur told Agence France-Presse. In a separate statement to The Associated Press, Mansur said, "We suspect that their reports have been used by the military to attack us. They will be released after their interrogation." The civilians were later revealed to be Syafrida and Soraya, both wives of Indonesian Air Force officers, according to the Jakarta Post.
On July 5, Brig. Gen. Bambang Darmono, commander of military operations in Aceh, declared that the RCTI team should turn themselves over to military authorities before 6 p.m. on July 8. The following day, Indonesian military chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto said in Lhokseumawe that GAM should release the hostages by that deadline or else face military attack.
On July 6, members of GAM brought Imam Wahyudi, an RCTI editor based in Aceh, along with other journalists, to meet with Siregar and Santoro at a GAM base in Peureulak District, in East Aceh. The group of journalists, who were forced to blindfold themselves during transit to the base, included an RCTI reporter and cameraman, in addition to two journalists each from Indosiar TV, TV7, and Kompas Media Group, according to Wahyudi. RCTI broadcast footage from the encounter on July 7.
When the hostages failed to appear by the military's deadline, General Sutarto expressed suspicion about Siregar's motives. In a statement to reporters on July 8, the general said, "Ersa [Siregar] has confused me. On one side, we initially assumed that he was taken hostage. Therefore we gave a three-day ultimatum for GAM to release him or we will do it by force. [But] evidences tell us that RCTI can freely enter GAM's territories. This is about taking of hostages and terrors, but why can RCTI enter without threats?" according to the China-based Xinhua news agency.
Indonesia's army chief of staff, Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu, and Darmono expressed comparable suspicions, according to Raymond Rondonuwu, a Jakarta-based editor for RCTI. GAM spokesman Mansur told the Jakarta Post that the RCTI team's release had been postponed indefinitely, because "we have learned that the military is planning an operation to free them. One thing they must understand is that we cannot guarantee the safety of these people should they continue to conduct a military offensive to free the hostages."
North Aceh police summoned and questioned journalists who had met with Siregar and the other hostages, including Gustav Roberto of Indosiar TV, Anggi Mulya Makmur of TV7, and Orin Basuki of Kompas, according to the Jakarta Post. Wahyudi told CPJ that both police and military officers questioned him. They also questioned Musjaya (who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name) and Munir Nur, the RCTI cameraman and reporter who accompanied Wahyudi to the GAM base, according to Dicky Martiaz, a senior producer at RCTI. All of the journalists who were questioned said that the inquiry focused on how Wahyudi was able to contact GAM members, and how the journalists were able to locate the GAM base.
Following the journalists' capture, the military and GAM made several attempts to negotiate a release, without success. The journalists' driver escaped captivity in early December 2003, and the two wives were freed in February 2004.
Siregar was shot and killed during a gun battle between Indonesian military forces and the rebels on December 29, 2003.
On May 16, 2004, Santoro was released by GAM and handed over to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Lhok Juoh area of eastern Aceh. At least 26 other civilian hostages were freed over the same weekend. Their releases were negotiated during several days of talks between military and GAM representatives, as well as representatives of RCTI and the International and Indonesian Red Cross.
JULY 3, 2003
Alif Imam Nurlambang, 68H
ATTACKED, THREATENED, HARASSED
Nursafri, Prima FM
Alif, a reporter for the private Indonesian radio station 68H (Radio Namlapanha), was assaulted by Indonesian security officers in the northwestern province of Aceh, where a massive Indonesian military offensive was launched on May 19 to crush a long-running separatist insurgency by the rebel Free Aceh Movement (known by its Indonesian acronym, GAM).
That morning, Nursafri (who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name), of Prima FM, and Alif began the day working together. Then Nursafri was dropped off in the village of Tapaktuan, while Alif was reporting near Panton Luas, another village in South Aceh. Two trucks carrying Indonesian security forces drove into the area of Panton Luas, according to Alif. The troops included members of Indonesia's Special Forces, marines, and paramilitary police, known as Brimob. The trucks were followed by a car carrying members of Indonesia's military intelligence unit, the Satuan Gabungan Intelijen.
Alif says that even though he identified himself as a reporter, the troops surrounded him, kicking and beating him from all sides. According to Alif, one of the troops shouted, "You think you're tough? Untouchable? I'll shoot you now." A soldier then jabbed an M-16 assault rifle in the reporter's back. The soldiers also searched Alif and his companions, as well as their car. The soldiers read through Alif's notes, listened to tapes he had recorded, and checked his mobile and satellite phones for the names and numbers of sources in the GAM rebel movement.
A police officer then told Alif that because he had entered a restricted area, he must be close to GAM. "Nobody can come here except for GAM," the officer said, according to Alif. "So if anyone comes here, they are GAM." When Alif protested that he had come as a reporter, the lead intelligence officer warned him that, "You can be accused of being a spy. We could say that you are supplying GAM." After the interrogation, the troops took Alif to the military's district command center at Tapaktuan, where he was questioned for several more hours before being released.
The next night, a military spokesman summoned both Alif and Nursafri to the regional military command center in the town of Meulaboh, in West Aceh, where they were both interrogated, according to Alif. When the reporters returned to their hotel later that night, military authorities confiscated the press identity cards issued to them by the military in Aceh and took pictures of the journalists. Thoughauthorities returned the ID cards the next morning, Alif and Nursafri felt vulnerable to further harassment and feared that, with their photographs on file, they would be easy targets for surveillance.
When the editor of Prima FM called the Meulaboh headquarters to complain about Nursafri and Alif's treatment, an officer there said that journalists were required to report to local military authorities when entering a conflict area. However, Alif and Nursafri had in fact reported to the military authorities at the Tapaktuan headquarters before proceeding to the area around Panton Luas.
Alif and Nursafri had been interviewing local residents about a recent exodus of area villagers. Around 40,000 Acehnese have fled their homes since the Indonesian military launched its campaign, according to The Associated Press.
SEPTEMBER 9, 2003
Karim Paputungan, Rakyat Merdeka
The South Jakarta District Court convicted Rakyat Merdeka Editor Paputungan of defamation for publishing a cartoon that lampooned Indonesia's parliamentary speaker, Akbar Tandjung, who was found guilty last year of embezzling US$4.5 million of state funds intended for public food assistance. The court convicted Paputungan of "attacking the standing and reputation of someone by showing an unsuitable picture" and gave him a five-month suspended prison sentence.
The tabloid newspaper had run a cartoon that depicted Tandjung without a shirt on, dripping with sweat because of his legal troubles. Tandjung refuses to resign from office despite public pressure and is free pending appeal of his conviction.
The day of the verdict, Paputungan vowed to appeal. The use of criminal defamation laws to silence critical voices in Indonesia's press is on the rise, and local journalists see a disturbing trend in the run-up to next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.
OCTOBER 27, 2003
Posted: October 27, 2003
Supratman, Rakyat Merdeka
Supratman, executive editor of the daily tabloid Rakyat Merdeka, was sentenced on charges of insulting the president.
The South Jakarta District Court gave editor Supratman (who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name) a six-month suspended sentence after Rakyat Merdeka published four headlines that were deemed offensive to President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Supratman was charged under articles 134 and 137 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes the "intentional insult" of the president or vice president.
One of the offending headlines compared Megawati to Soemanto, an Indonesian man arrested in 2002 for cannibalizing a neighbor. Supratman has stated that the headlines were direct quotes from participants in public protests against Megawati's policies.
Authorities first questioned Supratman in February. Legal proceedings against him began in June. The October 27 verdict mandates that Supratman will be jailed for six months if he commits the same crime within a year, according to news reports.
DECEMBER 12, 2003
Posted: January 28, 2004
The editor of the alternative biweekly tabloid Beudoh says that he was forced to close his newspaper because he refused to conform to the government's official line. Military officials interrogated, intimidated, and threatened the editor, Maarif, who like many in Indonesia goes by one name, forcing him to leave Aceh and go into hiding for his safety late last year, according to the BBC.
Military spokesman Col. Ditya Sudarsono denied that the military had officially banned the newspaper. In an interview with Agence-France Presse, Sudarsono claimed that military officials only "reprimanded" two journalists from the newspaper, including Maarif, for covering only one side of the conflict in Aceh, and for not including any quotes from people with "positive attitudes."
In an interview with the BBC, Maarif said that he had been hit in the head and threatened at gunpoint during an eight-hour interrogation by military officials after Beudoh ran an article in April 2003 questioning the value of holding elections scheduled for 2004 in a province under martial law. Sudarsono confirmed that military officials had questioned Maarif three times.
Maarif, 25, and some friends started Beudoh in the spring of 2003, before the latest military offensive in the war-torn Aceh province. Conditions for journalists in Aceh became precarious after the Indonesian military declared martial law in May 2003. The military has enforced harsh restrictions on the press, attacked journalists, and prohibited coverage of the Free Aceh Movement.
In its six months of existence, eight editions of Beudoh were published. During its brief tenure, the newspaper tried to present an alternative viewpoint with stories about human rights.
DECEMBER 29, 2003
Posted: May 19, 2004
Ersa Siregar, Rajawali Citra Televisi
KILLED – CONFIRMED
Siregar, a senior reporter with private Indonesian channel Rajawali Citra Televisi (RCTI), was shot and killed during a gun battle between Indonesian military forces and separatist rebels in the war-torn Aceh Province, according to RCTI chief editor Derek Manangka. Aceh military spokesman Lt. Col. Firdaus Komarno told Agence France-Presse that the firefight broke out when Indonesian soldiers came across a group of rebels in the area. Siregar's body and the body of a rebel fighter were found later.
According to news reports, the rebels accused the military of executing Siregar. In response, the military has claimed that the rebels were using the journalist as a human shield.
Siregar, 52, was kidnapped on June 29 by rebels from the Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym GAM, along with cameraman Fery Santoro, their driver, and two Indonesian officers' wives who were sharing a ride with the journalists to the town of Lhokseumawe in northern Aceh. The RCTI crew had been reporting on the military offensive in Aceh, which was launched on May 19 to crush the long-running rebel insurgency. On July 3, a spokesman for the rebels announced that the group was being held on suspicion of working for the Indonesian military (TNI).
GAM later dropped that accusation, but various attempts to secure the release of the hostages during the last six months have failed. On July 6, TNI Cmdr. Gen. Endriartono Sutarto set a deadline of July 8 for GAM to release the hostages or else face military attack. That same day, Imam Wahyudi, an editor at RCTI, and nine other journalists were allowed to meet with Siregar and reported that Siregar and Santoro were in good health. After GAM failed to meet the July 8 deadline, military officials questioned Wahyudi and the other journalists who had met with Siregar about how they were able to contact GAM and locate their base.
Further negotiations between the military and the rebels stalled over the rebels' demands for a seven-day ceasefire and that the military not be involved in the transfer of the hostages. TNI rejected the demands and proposed instead the creation of a battle-free zone where the hostages could be transferred from GAM control. Meanwhile, on October 4, the Jakarta Post reported that Siregar was suffering from deteriorating health, including coughing up blood.
On November 5, Indonesian security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the military to start an operation to locate the hostages, accusing GAM of being "a terror group which takes reporters and innocent civilians hostage."
On December 19, the driver was released unharmed.
The two wives were released in February 2004. On May 16, Santoro was released and handed over to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.