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SPJ Calls on Indonesia to Release Journalist and Ease Press Restrictions


Robert Leger, SPJ President, 417/836-1113 or
Maria Trombly, SPJ International Journalism Committee Chair, 212/931-0152 or

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists calls on Indonesian authorities to immediately release American freelance journalist William Nessen and ease restrictions on media coverage of the separatist Free Aceh Movement.

Nessen, who contributes to The San Francisco Chronicle and The Boston Globe, entered the strife-torn Aceh province of Indonesia before restrictions went into effect. He voluntarily surrendered to authorities on June 24 after several days of negotiations between the American embassy and the Indonesian military. Indonesian officials accuse him of spying.

The Committee to Project Journalists, which was involved in these talks, said that Nessen was an accredited journalist with a proper visa and innocent of any crime.

Since the start of a May 19 military offensive, the Indonesian military has imposed progressively harsher restrictions on journalists wanting to cover the conflict, requiring correspondents to receive special permission to enter Aceh, according to the CPJ. Finally, journalists were forbidden to enter the area at all.

Journalists have a special obligation in times of conflict to report both sides of a story, says SPJ President Robert Leger, editorial page editor of the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader.

“Democratic countries should work hard to ensure that journalists have more access to war zones than the civilian population in general,” said Leger. “Not less.”

At least one journalist has been killed in Aceh since the conflict began, while others have been shot and many have been restricted from covering the area.

“We understand that military authorities may feel that they have legitimate reasons to keep people from entering a particular area,” said Maria Trombly, chair of SPJ’s International Journalism Committee. “Restricting media coverage of a conflict is not a legitimate reason, however.”

Trombly, who has worked as a war correspondent in the former Soviet republics, added that journalists understand the risks of going into a war zone. While they may be grateful for a military’s offers to keep them safe, they should not be imprisoned for refusing to take advantage of those offers.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


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