Following a year of intensifying threats and violence against journalists, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesia is calling on the government to guarantee the safety of journalists and ensure a conducive environment for press freedom.
In a 3 January 2007 press release, AJI pointed out that Indonesia has yet to achieve “the essence of press and information freedom” that is stipulated in Article 28 of the country’s amended 1945 Constitution.
Toward that end, AJI said, the government and People’s Representative Council must demonstrate their commitment to democracy and rule of law by refraining from creating legislation that is not in line with the spirit of democracy and that does not respect human rights and political and civil freedoms.
AJI pointed to the serious threat arising from the draft bill of the Criminal Code, which is being deliberated by the People’s Representative Council and the government. It said the new Code has 61 articles that are potentially harmful to political and civil freedoms, including press freedom, whereas the current code has 37 articles that can send journalists to jail. AJI has always advocated that if a journalist commits a criminal act – such as blackmail, fraud or robbery – he or she should be punished; but journalists should never be imprisoned for their reports.
It noted that there are still four criminal cases against the press: Supratman, executive editor of “Rakyat Merdeka” daily, charged with insulting the president; Risang Bima Wijaya, editor-in-chief of Radar Yogya, for defamation; Teguh Santosa, executive editor of “Rakyat Merdeka” Online, for insulting a religion; and Karim Paputungan, editor-in-chief of “Rakyat Merdeka” daily, for defamation.
AJI called on all parties who have been maligned by press reports to use the mechanism of ”the right to respond”, which is provided by the 1999 Press Law, and regard the Press Council as ”a court for media”.
“In this era of democracy, criminalisation and using the Criminal Code against press reports should (be stopped),” it said.
AJI also voiced disappointment over the postponement of the draft bills on witness protection and freedom of information. It said the two bills “will speed up the process of democratisation and just law enforcement in Indonesia.”
Rising violence against journalists
The increasing acts of violence against the press are another matter requiring immediate action from the government, AJI said. It urged the police to fully investigate murders and other violence committed against journalists and bring the perpetrators to justice.
AJI recorded 53 cases of violence against the press from January to December 2006, an increase from 43 cases in the year before. AJI said the increased violence has put Indonesia at a low rank of 103 out of 168 countries in the 2006 Reporters Without Borders’s (RSF) press freedom index.
Jakarta was the most dangerous place for journalists (16 cases), followed by East Java (seven cases) and West Java (six cases). The types of violence range from physical abuse to harassment against the profession. Physical abuse topped the list (28 cases), followed by lawsuits against press (seven cases).
The biggest perpetrators of violence against the press were mobs (15 cases), followed by government apparatus (seven cases) and police apparatus (seven cases). AJI said attention should be given to the fact that the culture of violence has shifted “from the New Order-inherited state and apparatus to mobs of ordinary people”. AJI condemned violence from any party and expressed concern that the perpetrators included government and police officers, who should be setting a good example in resolving issues in civilised ways.
AJI also marked the beginning of the year by recalling three unsolved murder cases of journalists. Those killed were Fuad Muhammad Syafruddin of “Bernas” daily in Yogyakarta, on 16 August 1996; Elyudin Telaumbanua of “Berita Sore” daily in Medan, who was kidnapped on 24 August 2005 and later suspected killed; and Herliyanto, a freelance journalist in Probolinggo, East Java, on 29 April 2006.
Protection for journalists’ rights
Besides the physical and professional safety of journalists, their welfare also deserves protection. AJI called on media companies to “meet the basic rights of press workers, respect the freedom to set up trade unions and avoid violence in solving problems.”
In particular, AJI regretted the physically abusive dismissal of senior journalist Bambang Wisudo from “Kompas Daily”, a media company that, AJI said, “has been prominent for always voicing conscience, anti-violence spirit and democracy.”