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 were at least 56 cases of violence against journalists—higher than 2011’s 49 cases.
Of the 56 cases, there were 18 physical assaults, 15 verbal threats, 10 seizures or destruction of equipment, seven expulsions and prohibitions to cover news, and three protests followed by mass mobilizations. Moreover, there were two cases of censorship, and one each of web hacking and vandalism on an office building.
Even more alarming than these numbers, law enforcers have failed to address an overwhelming proportion of these cases of violence against journalists. Only seven of the 56 cases had been investigated either by the police or military police. Most of these cases were left unsolved, with perpetrators still roaming freely.
So far, minimal effort has also been exerted to resolve cases of violence against journalists. For instance, in the 25 November murder of Metro Manado journalist M Aryono Linggotu (aka “Ryo”), the Manado Police Department were reluctant of looking into possible links of the incident with Ryo’s critical reporting on their work.
Since the untimely death of Ryo, police have only named one suspect, a juvenile. The police’s lethargy in tracing any possible connection between Ryo’s killing and his journalistic works can only hamper the investigation into the murder motives as well as perpetrators.
The delays in bringing justice to a number of cases of violence against journalists can only be a signal an going practice of impunity for the perpetrators. Until now, the identities of murderers of journalists Fuad Muhammad Syarifuddin (Udin), Naimullah, Agus Mulyawan, Muhammad Jamaluddin, Ersa Siregar, Herliyanto, Adriansyah Matra’is Wibisono and Alfred Mirulewan have not yet revealed.
In reality, impunity is a common story in Indonesia, and one of its most insidious forms is by simplifying the resolution of cases with a simple “sorry” by the offender. The attack against six journalists in Padang, West Sumatra, on 29 May is a prominent example. The perpetrators attempted reconciliation with the victims of abuse, who insisted on a legal process through the military court.
In a similar case in Pekanbaru, Riau, on 16 October, the mid-ranking military officer, who attacked a journalist covering the crash of an aircraft belonging to the Indonesian Air Force, attempted in vain to negotiate with the victim to forget the case. Ironically, the case was made worse when the TV journalist who documented the incident on video was also attacked.
AJI Indonesia has documented 13 cases of violence against journalists committed by state officials. As many as 11 crimes were perpetrated by police officers, and nine cases involved military personnel.
State, military and police officials only aggravate their image with their efforts to create public opinion that cases of violence against journalists can be resolved through a backdoor negotiations between the perpetrators and the victims.
The practice of glossing over the cases of violence against journalist reveals a dangerous trend of officials becoming more ignorant of the legal protection of journalism as a profession. This practice to simplify resolution of cases through public apologies can only boost incidents of violence against journalists.
The year 2012 can be seen as a year of important legal milestones for the press and freedom of expression in Indonesia. Two appeals filed by a civil society coalition on access to information–which counts AJI Indonesia among its members–on the Law on Broadcasting and Law on Intelligence were declined. At about the same period, the Law on Settlement of Social Conflict was passed, restricting journalists’ rights to cover conflict areas. These legal setbacks can be seen as a defeat of the people’s right to access to information.
Police have apparently taken part in efforts to suppress freedom of expression after they banned the 4 May discussion led by Canadian writer and feminist, Irshad Manji on her book, Allah, Liberty and Love. Days later, the rector of the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta rejected a 9 May schedule to discuss the book on campus. After the discussion was moved to the office of a publishing company, a group of unidentified people stormed the venue, injuring six persons.
In this case, the police helped prevent people from openly exchanging views on this legitimate, albeit controversial, topic. Furthermore, as in other cases involving religious minorities, they have also failed to protect citizens from acts of violence committed by certain sectors, and not to mention did nothing in the aftermath.
On the positive side, the Supreme Court approved a judicial review of the defamation case of Prita Mulyasari, who was sued by a private hospital following an email complaint. The verdict helped Prita avoid six years of probation, and offered hope of better protection to the online rights of Indonesians in general.
Being essential to the protection and promotion of other human rights, the general trend in 2012 towards restriction of the right to freedom of opinion and expression may also dampen other human rights.