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AJI protests at press gag over remarks by Bambang

Tapol - November 9, 1997

The Alliance of Independent Journalists has issued a statement protesting against attempts by the Indonesian armed forces (ABRI) to prevent the press from reporting statements by Bambang Trihatmojo and Probosutejo about the closure of 16 banks.

On 4 November, the Information Department of ABRI phoned all newspapers regarding a statement by President Suharto's son, Bambang Trihatmojo, alleging that there were political motives behind the recent decision of the Minister of Finance to close down 16 banks, aimed at cornering the Suharto family and thwarting Suharto's election as president at the forthcoming session of the MPR in March next year.

Bank Andromeda, part owned by Bambang, and Bank Jakarta, part owned by Proboseutjo, a cousin of the President, were among the 16 banks ordered to close by order of the Finance Minister, Mar'ie Muhammad on 1 November. The two men have since declared publicly that they would take the Finance Minister to court over the closure of their banks.

On 4 November, Bambamg pointed to a political motive behind the decision: 'I see this as an attempt to besmirch the name of our family, indirectly aimed against Bapak (Suharto) and ensure that he is not re-elected president.' He told journalists: 'As you know banks owned by myself, my sister Titiek and Probo have been ordered to close and banks owned by Mbak Tutut (older sister), Tommy (younger brother) and Dwikatmono (uncle) were also originally included in the list.' He went on to say that he had consulted with other members of the family about his decision to initiate a lawsuit against the Minister of Finance.

According to SiaR, a news agency on the Internet, on the same evening, State Secretary Murdiono phoned ABRI's Information Department from Kuala Lumpur to pass on an instruction from President Suharto who was in the Malaysia capital at the time to ban the press from reporting the comments made by Bambang. The Department responded immediately by phoning all newspapers one by one, ordering them not to say anything about Bambang's statement.

The instruction turns out to have been very effective. No newspapers reported the news, with the exception of one or two that had already gone to press.

This shows that the Government is still engaged in activities that violate the freedom of the press and the public's right to know.

In a statement issued on 5 November, AJI strongly protested against this censorship and repeated its call on all sides, in particular ABRI and the Government, not to censor the press because this is in breech of the Indonesian Constitution which guarantees the freedom of the press. The statement was signed by Lukas Luwarso, chairperson, and Dadang RHs, Secretary.