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2012 review: a dark period for free expression in Indonesia

(AJI/IFEX) - 6 January 2013 - In this review of free expression in Indonesia, AJI looks back at the major developments in 2012.

On-going suppression

Press freedom and freedom of expression in Indonesia went through gloomy days in 2012 as a growing number of violent acts against journalists was recorded. AJI Indonesia noted that between December 2011 and December 2012, there had been at least around 56 cases of violence against journalists, which is higher than 2011 (49 cases).

Around 18 out of the 56 cases involved physical assaults, 15 reports of verbal threats, 10 cases of reporters having their equipment smashed or seized, seven cases of expulsion and prohibition interfering with news coverage, and three cases of protests followed by mass mobilization. Moreover, two other cases had to do with censorship, a case involved web hacking, and one case involved vandalism on office building.

Red bars should be applied to law enforcers who have been failing to consider many cases of violence against journalists. Of the 56 incidents of violence committed in 2012, only seven cases had been investigated either by police or the military police. Most of the cases were left unsolved while the perpetrators are still at large.

So far, no maximum efforts have been applied to resolve cases of violence against journalists. In the murder case of a "Metro Manado" journalist, M Aryono Linggotu aka Ryo, for example, the Manado Police Department was reluctant to look into a possible link between his profession and his killing. In fact, it has been acknowledged that Ryo was critical of the Manado Police and had covered criminal cases under the department's purview.

Since the untimely death of Ryo on November 25, 2012, police have only named a suspect, who is still deemed a juvenile. The police's unwillingness to trace any possible tie between Ryo's killing and his journalistic works may hamper the police in seeking out the motives as well as the perpetrators.

Various delays in bringing a number of cases of violence against journalists to justice are a signal of the ongoing practice of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators. Thus far, the identities of the murderers of Fuad Muhammad Syarifuddin (Udin), Naimullah, Agus Mulyawan, Muhammad Jamaluddin, Ersa Siregar, Herliyanto, Adriansyah Matra'is Wibisono and Alfred Mirulewan have not been revealed.

Dangerous simplification

In reality, impunity, one form of which is simplifying cases of violence against journalists - suggesting that a simple sorry, for example, would be enough - is a common story in Indonesia. A high-profile attack against six journalists in Padang, West Sumatra, committed on May 29, 2012, by military officers is one example. The perpetrators attempted a reconciliation process with the victims of the abuse. However, the legal process went all the way through the military court.

Another case of simplification took place in Pekanbaru, Riau, on October 16, 2012, after a mid-rank military officer, Lieut. Col. Robert Simanjuntak, attacked a journalist covering a crashed Hawk 200 aircraft which belonged to the Indonesian Air Force. A negotiation aiming to dismiss the case resulted in vain. Ironically, the incident, which was clearly recorded by a video camera, was made worse by another attack toward a TV journalist who managed to document the event.

All efforts to influence public opinion by suggesting that cases of violence against journalists can be resolved through backdoor understanding between the perpetrators and the victims aggravated the image of state officials, military officers and the police. AJI Indonesia reported that 13 cases of violence against journalists were committed by state officials. As many as 11 crimes were perpetrated by police officers, while nine other cases involved military personnel.

It is dangerous to eliminate details about the cases of violence against journalists as state officials, military officers and the police are showing more ignorance of journalists' rights, which is upheld law. The simplification practices will have a consequence and result in boosting violence against journalists.

Public defeat and victory

2012 can be seen as a year of defeat for the press community in defending its freedom from laws and policies passed by the authorities. But it was actually more a defeat for the people fighting for their access to information as well as freedom of expression. Two appeals filed by a coalition for access to information (in which AJI Indonesia participates) in terms of the Law on Broadcasting and the Law on Intelligence were declined. At about the same time, AJI also reported on the passing of a new law (Law on Settlement of Social Conflict) which restricts journalists' rights as regards reporting in conflict areas.

Police apparently repressed free expression as exhibited by the banning of a discussion and presentation of a Canadian book writer and feminist figure, Irshad Mandji. On May 4, police intervened in the discussion and disbanded the audiences who wished to hear a presentation on Irshad's book entitled "Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom". On May 9, 2012, the Rector of Gadjah Mada University said no to plans to hold the discussion on campus. That night, the discussion on the book was instead held at the office of a publishing company, LKiS Yogyakarta. However, a group of unidentified people stormed the venue and injured six people.

In a way, the police's actions prevented citizens from acquiring information. In various cases involving violence against minorities, police did nothing to respond to the incidents. Despite a series of terrible news, there was some hope after a verdict from the Supreme Court. The court gave its approval for the carrying out of a judicial review of Prita Mulyasari's case, following a struggle of five years. The verdict helped Prita eschew six years of probation. Prita was not the only one who benefited from the decision, Indonesian citizens in general did as well.

The deterioration in press freedom and people's freedom in 2012 should be considered a threat to citizens' basic rights. When freedom of expression and press freedom are restricted, other rights may also be dampened.

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