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Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Indonesia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1999
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Indonesia, February 1999, available at: [accessed 16 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

As of December 31, 1998

After 32 years of autocratic rule, President Suharto, a perennial among CPJ's annual 10 worst Enemies of the Press, resigned on May 21, driven from power by an economic meltdown, enraged students, and widespread rioting. Suharto's sudden departure triggered a wave of cries for "reformasi," or political reform, that swept aside most restrictions on the press and led to a sudden blossoming of the media in a country that has rarely experienced unbridled free expression.

Within days of Suharto's exit, new publications were springing to life and journalists were free to say virtually anything without fear of official harassment. Despite the ongoing economic crisis, news vendors clogged streets, feeding a public clamor for information and opinion about the unfolding political drama that had overtaken the country.

But the Suharto system has not yet changed. His resignation left in place not only Suharto's hand-picked deputy and best friend, Bacharuddin Jusuf (B. J.) Habibie, to lead the nation, but also virtually the entire governmental superstructure of privilege, control, and cronyism that had kept Suharto in power.

Although the media have been operating freely, restrictive Suharto-era statutes remain on the books. Still, Habibie amnestied most political prisoners, including Andi Syahputra, a member of the Alliance of Independent Journalists who was imprisoned in 1996 for insulting Suharto in print.

The clearest sign of the new freedom came in October when the government allowed Tempo, once Indonesia's premier weekly magazine, to reopen. The Suharto regime had closed Tempo in 1994. Goenawan Mohamad, Tempo's founder and chief editor, reassembled a staff of veteran reporters, found the financing, and took the plunge after deciding that Habibie's government was serious about political reform. Sales have exceeded expectations and the Tempo group may soon expand into other media. Goenawan, a recipient of CPJ's 1998 International Press Freedom Award, said shortly before the relaunch of the magazine, "The best thing the press can contribute is to develop a culture of transparency and accountability in the government. We hope Tempo will become a place that will help defend and expand our freedoms."

Lt. Gen. Mohamad Yunus, appointed by Habibie as Information Minister, has spearheaded press freedom reforms. He has eliminated the requirement that radio and television outlets broadcast hourly government-prepared news bulletins, lifted censorship of foreign publications sold in Indonesia, and ended mandatory membership in the state-sanctioned journalists union. In August, Yunus told a CPJ representative during a meeting in his Jakarta office, "This is my basic point: The people should be the ones to decide. They need information. The more, the better." Despite his reformist agenda, Yunus has also had to spend his time in office denying Australian newspaper reports alleging that he was in command of troops who murdered five Australia-based reporters in the East Timor town of Balibo in 1975. The sporadic fits of rioting and violent unrest that continued to sweep the country after Suharto's resignation left journalists vulnerable to physical danger. In November, three journalists were badly beaten in Jakarta during student demonstrations, leading to calls for the military to respect the rights of the working press.

Attacks on the Press in Indonesia in 1998

11/11/98Saptono, Antara News AgencyAttacked
11/11/98Eddi Hasby, KompasAttacked
11/11/98Tatan Agus, Gatra MagazineAttacked
11/11/98Bambang Wisudo, KompasAttacked
11/10/98John Stackhouse, Toronto Globe and MailExpelled
09/30/98Rudy Goenawan, Jakarta-Jakarta MagazineLegal Action
05/16/98Sayuti, Media IndonesiaAttacked
05/16/98Tutang Muchtar, SinarAttacked
05/16/98Riyanto Oemar, RepublikaAttacked
05/16/98Ika Rais, Pikiran RakyatAttacked
05/16/98AR Rochim, AksiAttacked
05/16/98Hermansyah Pani, SuryaThreatened, Harassed
05/16/98Munawar Mandailing, Antara national news agencyAttacked
05/16/98Hindayoen Nts, KompasAttacked
05/16/98Edi Romadhon, Kedaulatan RakyatAttacked
05/16/98Yuyung Abdi, Jawa PosAttacked
05/14/98All television stations and journalistsCensored
05/09/98Paul Watson, Toronto StarExpelled
04/17/98All journalistsThreatened, Harassed, Censored
03/18/98Allan Nairn, free-lancerExpelled
03/10/98Ging Ginanjar, SBS RadioImprisoned
03/10/98Adi Hermawan, MerdekaImprisoned
03/06/98Margiono, D&R MagazineThreatened, Legal Action
03/06/98D&R MagazineThreatened
03/06/98Stephanie Vaesson, NOSLegal Action, Expelled
03/06/98William Cooper, WTNHarassed
03/06/98Gaap Leemeier, NOSHarassed
03/06/98Indonesian media workerHarassed
03/06/98Indonesian media workerHarassed
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