Vancouver, BC --Speaking for the first time outside Indonesia since his release from more than two years in prison, Indonesian journalist Ahmad Taufik today accepted an International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in ceremonies here.
The honor was given to Taufik in 1995 but he was unable to accept the award then because he was in prison on charges stemming from articles he wrote that were critical of the Suharto regime.
The award was presented by CPJ as government leaders from 18 North American and Asian countries, including Indonesia, were gathering in Vancouver for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Mp> In his remarks, Taufik recalled the circumstances of his arrest in March 1995 when unidentified policemen seized him and another colleague without a warrant. He was intimidated, threatened, interrogated and kept in miserable conditions after his arrest. With a nine-day old son at home at the time, Taufik did not know if he would live or die at the hands of his captors. Eventually he was sentenced to 32 months in prison for violating the Indonesian press law and a section of the criminal code which bars the expression of "feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt toward the government."
CPJ conducted an international campaign in 1996 calling for his release from jail. He was paroled in July but still has to report to the Indonesian authorities on a regular basis. He is currently a reporter with D&R magazine in Jakarta.
Calling his jailers "fascists" who fear those "whose only weapon is their pen" Taufik recalled other Indonesia colleagues who have lost their jobs or been imprisoned as a result of their work. As a founding member of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the only independent media uni on in Indonesia, Taufik noted that members of AJI have been subject to frequent firings and harassment. He was jailed as a result of his writing for Independen, the magazine of AJI, on the subjects of presidential succession and the family wealth of Indonesian president Suharto.
Strict press licensing, censorship, and the threat of imprisonment have combined to make the Indonesian press among the least free in the world. Ahmad Taufik and a handful of others have been seeking in recent years to push the boundaries of what is acceptable in the Indonesian media. "Critical members of society are put behind bars and declared anti-government or communists, or even murdered," said Taufik. "Journalists who try to be critical are intimidated and are under the constant threat of their publications being banned."
Taufik's remarks were delivered following "Open Markets, Open Media?," a symposium on free press issues held in conjunction with the APEC forum.
He called on the international community to support efforts inside
Indonesia and other countries to establish a free press. "We are still
struggling for press freedom," he said, "but more than that, also for a
country with a government that is free of corruption and nepotism and that
does not abuse human rights."