This is a ZNet Update. It is a bit unusual, a call to help save a person's life --
Billy Nessen, a journalist, who happens also to be a friend of mine.
Billy Nessen is trapped in the military zone in Aceh province in Indonesia. Billy is a
freelance journalist who has been reporting on the burgeoning independence movement in
Aceh. Now he is trying to leave the war zone and is being prevented from doing so by
the Indonesian government soldiers. It is essential that people please send faxes to
the Indonesian government and to the US Ambassador to Indonesia. The details are
below, following an article about the issue and situation from Kurt Biddle.
U.S. Journalist in Danger
Reporters and Human Rights Defenders Targeted for Exposing Indonesian Military
Atrocities in Aceh
Contact: Kurt Biddle, Coordinator, Indonesia Human Rights Network, 510-559-7762
June 19, 2003 < The U.S.-based Indonesia Human Rights Network (IHRN) today called upon
the Indonesian government to respect freedom of the press, ensure the safety of
journalists and human rights workers working in Aceh, and to end harassment and
intimidation of activists and reporters focusing on the war-torn region.
The life of American William ³Billy² Nessen, the only journalist to spend time with
the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) since Indonesia renewed the war on Aceh in mid-May,
is in danger. The Indonesian military (TNI) has demanded that Nessen turn himself in.
Nessen is refusing to give himself up to the TNI and has requested that he be allowed
to leave Indonesia without being stopped or interrogated. He also asks that the U.S.
Embassy or an independent third party meet and escort him out of the country. Because
these conditions have not been guaranteed, Nessen missed the TNIıs June 14 deadline to
"I am not going to turn myself in," Nessen told the Sydney Morning Herald. "My fear is
of being shot, tortured, beaten and arrested and held indefinitely in a black hole."
The military operation commander for Aceh, Brigadier-General Bambang Darmono, has said
that Nessen will be arrested.
Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent
a letter on June 15 to Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri requesting that
Nessenıs safety and safe passage out of Indonesia be ensured.
On June 10, the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists also sent a letter to
Megawati urging immediate action to ensure Nessenıs safety. The Paris-based Reporters
Without Borders sent a similar letter to Indonesian military officials.
Aceh provincial governor, Abullah Puteh, recently commented, ³Foreign journalists are
here to stir up problems in Aceh² and cited Nessen as an example.
The press has repeatedly come under fire during the Indonesian militaryıs renewed war
on Aceh. Snipers have ambushed several press vehicles. Police and army officials have
interrogated journalists reporting on TNI atrocities against civilians; some
journalists have received death threats. Indonesia is employing an ³embedded reporter²
program < Indonesian journalists undergo ³boot camp² style training and wear military
uniforms. Reporters have been warned not to report on military abuses they have
witnessed. Mohamad Jamal, a cameraman for the Indonesian government-run television
station TVRI, was kidnapped by unknown men on May 20, the day after current military
operations began in Aceh. Jamalıs body was found on June 17 in a river near Banda
Aceh, bound and gagged with duct tape with a noose around his neck.
A reporter for Indonesian television station SCTV, Dhandy Dwi Laksono, was fired after
interviewing an Acehnese man was about being tortured by the TNI. According to
Laksono, the station received threatening messages from the military after the
Human rights workers and lawyers have also been subject to attacks for their work in
Aceh. Many have fled the region. Indonesiaıs National Human Rights Commission says
there have been arbitrary arrests of human rights workers. Last month, an organized
mob of 100 thugs attacked the Jakarta office and staff of the Commission for
Disappearances and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS) because of the NGOıs criticism of
government actions in Aceh.
The Indonesian military shot two German tourists two weeks ago. Luther Hendrik Albert
was killed by the TNI, and his wife, Elizabeth Margareth, was shot in the leg.
Indonesia has since banned all foreigners from going to Aceh.
Nessen has written articles about Indonesian military repression for the San Francisco
Chronicle, the Boston Globe, the Independent (UK) and the Sydney Morning Herald
Aceh, on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra in the Western end of the
Indonesian archipelago, is the site of one of Asia's longest running wars. For almost
27 years, the armed Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has been demanding independence from
Indonesia. On December 9, 2002, an important cease-fire agreement (CoHA) was signed
between Indonesia and GAM. Both sides were subsequently criticized for violating the
agreement. In February, Indonesian security forces began actively undermining the CoHA
by targeting peaceful political and human rights activists for arrest. At talks in
Tokyo, the Indonesian government demanded that GAM drop its goal of independence and
disband in order to continue the talks < conditions that GAM could not fulfill. On May
19, 2003, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh. A
few hours later, hundreds of Indonesian troops poured in and renewed attacks on both
GAM and Acehnese civilians. Numerous civilians and five GAM negotiators were arrested.
Under martial law they are not allowed legal representation for twenty days; this can
be extended to fifty days. The current TNI offensive is only increasing Acehnese
desires for independence from Indonesia, already widespread due to the brutality of
Indonesian military and police and the lack of Acehnese control over the regionıs rich
The income Indonesia draws from the Aceh gas fields is a quarter of the countryıs
natural resource revenues; ExxonMobil provides Indonesian troops with economic and
material support, and Acehnese activists and the Washington based International Labor
Rights Fund charge the oil giant with complicity in TNI murder, kidnapping and rape of
Acehnese living near the plant.
Human rights groups estimate some 200 civilians have been killed in Aceh since
Indonesia declared martial law on May 19. Over 40,000 people have fled their homes;
many are in camps without clean drinking water and adequate sanitation. Indonesia has
estimated that over 300,000 people will be displaced in the military operation.
IHRN is a U.S.-based grassroots organization working to educate and activate the
American public and influence U.S. foreign policy and international economic interests
to support democracy, demilitarization, and justice through accountability and rule of
law in Indonesia. IHRN seeks to end armed forces repression in Indonesia by exposing
it to international scrutiny. IHRN works with and advocates on behalf of people
throughout the Indonesian archipelago to strengthen civil society. For more
information see www.IndonesiaNetwork.org.
URGENT: US journalist's life in danger in Aceh Province, Indonesia.
Friends: Last month the Indonesian military commenced a major offensive against the
Free Aceh Movement (the GAM). At that time, a US journalist, Billy Nessen, was
traveling with and writing about the GAM, and is now trapped in the fighting. Last
week he attempted to enter a government controlled area, was fired upon and fled,
losing his camera, computer, and passport.
The Indonesian military is widely known for brutality in East Timor. Obviously they do
not want outside observers in Aceh, and Nessen is the last international journalist in
the war zone. Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, the head of the martial law administration in
Aceh, has made threatening comments, refused to promise Nessen safe passage, and
insisted he "give himself up".
We believe Billy's life is in great danger. The number of Aceh citizens killed is
unknown, but two German tourists have been shot by the military, and on June 17th an
Indonesian TV camerman was found dead in Aceh, his hands tied and his eyes and mouth
The Committee to Protect Journalists, faculty and staff at the Columbia School of
Journalism (Nessen's alma mater), the San Francisco Local of the National Writers
Union, Media Alliance, and Billy's friends and family are all working to get him home
Nessen's life is at stake. Please fax two letters TODAY to:
US Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph Boyce. fax: 011-6221-3435-9922
Indonesian Ambassador to the U.S. Soemadi D.M. Brotodiningrat. fax: 202-775-5365
Faxing is best, but if you don't have access to a fax, please send these messages via
[EMAIL PROTECTED] [EMAIL PROTECTED]
For more information, Google Billy Nessen, contact the Committee to Protect
Journalists at the site below, or email [EMAIL PROTECTED]
Sir: I am aware that US journalist Billy Nessen is in great danger in Aceh province,
It is the international right of journalists to travel freely and interview who they
choose in the course of their work.
It is the responsibility of the US and Indonesian governments to uphold these rights.
I demand that a ranking member of the US embassy travel to Aceh province and escort
Billy Nessen out of the fighting and that the Indonesian government allow Nessen to
leave the country without injury, arrest, or interrogation.
Sincerely, Title if pertinent.
>From the Committee to Protect Journalist, NYNY INDONESIA: American journalist in
>danger in Aceh
June 10, 2003
TO: Her Excellency Megawati Sukarnoputri President, Republic of Indonesia Office of
the President Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 1 Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the safety of
American free-lance journalist William Nessen, who is currently traveling with
separatist rebels in the restive Indonesian province of Aceh, where a massive military
campaign is underway. The group Nessen is with has come under direct attack from
Indonesian government soldiers, and his life is currently at great risk.
Nessen has been covering the insurgency in Aceh for years and is known for having rare
access to rebels with the Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym as GAM.
A free-lance reporter and photographer, he has contributed to such publications as The
Boston Globe, The Sydney Morning Herald, and the British newspaper The Independent.
Nessen last spoke to his wife, Shadia Marhaban, at about 5:30 p.m., local time, using
a satellite phone. During this conversation, he said that when he attempted to
surrender to government soldiers, troops opened fire, forcing him to flee with the
rebels for safety. "I could hear gunfire, and then the line went dead," Marhaban told
Yesterday, Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, the head of the martial law administration in
Aceh, told a press conference that he was aware that an American journalist was
trapped in rebel-held territory. However, Suwarya added that it was up to the reporter
to extract himself from danger as, "We cannot guarantee the safety of foreign
journalists in Aceh," according to The Associated Press and the regional daily Serambi
After the military offensive was launched on May 19, Suwarya stated that he would no
longer allow the views of GAM to be reported by the media. Indonesian authorities have
said repeatedly that Suwarya has the sole discretion to control the media in Aceh.
Authorities also have announced their intention to ban all foreign journalists from
reporting in Aceh, an order that has yet to go into effect.
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