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Two environmental reporters found dead; threats to journalists escalate

One journalist's body was found in a river, another died mysteriously in his home, and a third has received a death threat written in blood. Indonesian journalists are under deadly pressure for reporting on environmental degradation and local politics, with threats escalating prior to local elections, report the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

In the province of Papua, journalists have been receiving threatening text messages in the run-up to local elections in August and September. One message said: "To cowardly journalists, never play with fire if you don't want to be burned. If you still want to make a living on this land, don't do weird things. We have data on all of you and be prepared for death." Another letter allegedly written in blood was posted outside the home of a reporter for the daily "Bintang Papua".

Last year, reporter Ardiansyah Matra'is wrote a series of articles for "Jubi" magazine about illegal logging by local military officers, and took photos of their operations. He was then kidnapped and threatened by soldiers who threatened to kill his family members if he continued his work.

On 30 July 2010, Matra'is's naked, handcuffed body was found in the River Gudang Arand with his arm tied to a tree to prevent his body from floating downstream, report IFJ and the International Press Institute (IPI).

Matra'is had been working for local broadcaster Merauke TV and had received threatening text messages in the days before his death, says IPI. "Matra'is's death seems to confirm the dangers of covering deforestation in Indonesia," says RSF.

Days earlier, well-known journalist Muhammad Syaifullah, who reported on environmental destruction, was found dead in his home on 26 July in Balikpapan, Borneo. He ran the Borneo bureau of "Kompas", Indonesia's biggest daily newspaper, and reported extensively on illegal logging. His last report focused on problems relating to coal mining.

Syaifullah was found by colleagues frothing at the mouth. Local journalists believe he was poisoned, casting doubt on an autopsy report that showed he died from a brain haemorrhage caused by diabetes and hypertension.

In the last 12 months, AJI documented 40 cases of violence against journalists in a new report, with 12 instances of brutal assault. Indonesian journalists face censorship from local government officials, legal repression with defamation cases, and confiscation of equipment, says the report. Journalists have also been violently targeted by 10 organisations. To read the full report, visit:
2010 Enemy of Press Freedom

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