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Journalist organisations condemn police intervention in "Jakarta Post" blasphemy matter

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 17 December 2014.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) (Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia) in criticizing and rejecting the naming of the chief editor of the Jakarta Post as a suspect in a blasphemy case. Both AJI and the IFJ have said the case has already been legitimately handled by the Indonesian Press Council and any further intervention by police amounts to an attack on the country's media freedom.

Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, the chief editor of the Jakarta Post, one of Indonesia's leading English-dailies was named as a suspect for religious defamation on Thursday December 11, 2014. The issue is a result of a cartoon published on July 3, in which in a flag similar to that of the Islamic State was replicated with a skull and cross bones and including the phrase 'there is no God but Allah'. The cartoon also showed the words Muhammad and Allah, on the skull.

Following its publication, the Jakarta Post received a number of complaints and on July 8 issued an apology, both in English and Bahasa Indonesia. It subsequently retracted the cartoon, saying it 'regretted the error in judgment'. In spite of this, a formal complaint was lodged by the Jakarta Preachers Corps (KMJ) to the National Police.

In a statement from the Jakarta Post after Suryodiningrat was named as a suspect, the paper said: "We are amazed because the fact is we did not commit a criminal act as accused. What we produced was a journalistic piece that criticized the ISIS movement, which has carried out violence in the name of religion. It means that the ISIS caricature was not blasphemous."

AJI President, Suwarjono, said: "An MoU between the Press Council and the National Police had been signed by Pak Bagir Manan and Police General Timur Pradopo in 2012. It is clearly within the authority of the Press Council to deal with the case and settle it. Police's decision to proceed with the case has been considered state criminalization against the media," AJI said that the police investigation was an obvious attack on Indonesia's media and opened the potential for future criminalization of any citizen or media worker in similar matters.

"The press will again be silenced. Police must revoke his suspect status and return this case to the Press Law which is lex specialis," said Suwarjono. This in effect means that the Press Council agreement takes precedence.

IFJ Asia Pacific acting director, Jane Worthington, said: "The naming of Meidyatama Suryodiningrat as a suspect in this attempted religious defamation case is a clear breach of press freedom in Indonesia. Defamation should not be a criminal offence and should be handled appropriately by the media regulatory bodies. The Jakarta Post has responded and the matter dealt with swiftly by the Press Council. This should be the end of the matter. The criminal investigation conducted by the Police crosses the remit of the Press Council and breaching their role in society."

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