|May 22, 1998 - The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is
deeply alarmed to learn that Lt. Gen. Yunus Yosfiah, Minister of Information
in the newly appointed cabinet of President Jusuf Habibie, was implicated
in one of the most brutal attacks ever on journalists, the October 1975
murder of five reporters during the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.
In October 1975 Yosfiah was in command of the special forces troops that killed the five journalists — two Britons, two Australians and a New Zealander — during the invasion. The five were attempting to film a documentary on the invasion when they were murdered in the small town of Balibao.
According to a 1995 investigative report in the London Independent newspaper, Yosfiah, then a 31-year-old major, was the commander of a unit of "Korps Marinier" which in the early morning of Thursday, October 16, 1975 murdered the journalists inside a shop in which they had established a temporary office. Eyewitnesses later recounted that the men identified themselves to the soldiers as journalists before they were killed. The bodies were burned and the troops attempted to cover up the incident. Those killed were Britons, Brian Peters, a 29-year-old cameraman; and Malcolm Rennie, a 28-year-old reporter; Australians, Greg Shackleton, 29, a reporter; and soundman Tony Stewart, 21; and a New Zealander, 27-year-old cameraman Gary Cunningham.
Yosfiah's connection with the attack has long been on the public record. The National Times, an Australian weekly, named him in an investigation printed in July 1979. An Australian government report on the killings quoted witnesses as saying "Yunus" was in charge of the unit responsible. Australia's consul in East Timor at the time, James Dunn, has been widely quoted saying the five were shot to prevent them getting their filmed story of the Indonesian invasion out to the world.
Yosfiah has never publicly commented on the charges, although a Reuters report said that he has apologized privately to diplomats for the incident, which he blamed on subordinates.
As a non-partisan organization dedicated to the defense of press freedom, CPJ finds the naming of Yosfiah to the crucial Information Ministry post very disturbing. Genuine reform of Indonesia's restrictive press laws is a key element in restoring public confidence during a time of crucial political transition. It is difficult to see how someone with Yosfiah's background could gain the confidence of our Indonesian colleagues, who are anxious to work in a free press environment.
CPJ respectfully calls on President Habibie to rescind the appointment of Yosfiah to his cabinet. We hope that he will show your commitment to press reform by naming an Information Minister with a history of respect for the press and a record of defending the rights of journalists. CPJ believe that it is impossible for democracy to flourish without a free press and that the Indonesian government's policy toward the media will be a crucial measure of its commitment to reform.