The following is a statement issued by the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia
Press freedom, which has been guaranteed by the Constitution, is being tested again. Today, 30 August 2006, the South Jakarta District Court opened the trial against Teguh Santosa, editor-in-chief of Rakyat Merdeka (RM) Online, who is accused of breaching Articles 156 and 156 (a) of the Criminal Code (KUHP) on defamation against religion. Teguh faces five years of imprisonment if found guilty.
It all began when in its 2 February 2006 edition, RM Online republished three of 12 controversial cartoons taken from the October 2005 edition of Denmark-based Jylland Posten daily. RM Online had intended to show its readers that those were the pictures that had sparked protests from Islamic believers in various countries, including Indonesia. A group of people who saw the cartoons, however, accused RM Online of defaming Prophet Mohamad and Islam.
Conceding that “the press must be ready to be controlled by the people”, RM Online withdrew the cartoons from its online edition and issued an apology to Muslims who felt insulted that their religion had been degraded by the republication of the cartoons. Editor-in-chief Teguh also stressed that there had been no intention to insult any party, but merely to carry out journalistic duties in seeking, digging and sharing information.
The goodwill, however, was not enough. A group of Muslims filed a report against RM Online to the police and the Jakarta High Court followed up by prosecuting Teguh, accusing him of insulting Prophet Mohamad.
The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia wishes to state that:
- The use of Articles 156 and 156 (a) of the Criminal Code on defamation/degradation of religion against Teguh Santosa (RM Online) is an effort to criminalize journalists/press, which is not in line with the spirit of press freedom as stipulated by Article 28F of the 1945 Constitution.
- Since the very beginning, AJI has always called for the use of the Law on Press Number 40/1999 and rejected the use of the Criminal Code in efforts to resolve any disputes regarding press reports, because the latter option could cause censorship of critical journalists and threaten press freedom.
- What Teguh Santosa and RM Online had done was fully an effort to meet the public’s right to know as regards the cartoon controversy, which has been regarded by some Islamic followers as insulting Prophet Mohamad, and it was part of the duties of the press to seek and dig for information to share with the public.
- AJI is aware that there is no absolute freedom, including press freedom. However, AJI calls on the people and government apparatus who may question a news report or the publication of pictures in the media, to NOT take steps that can jail journalists or control press freedom. Regulations on the right to counter, the right to make correction and reports to the Press Council are the best consensus in settling press-related disputes.