The party’s over for openness, more restrictions expected

[Indonesia country report to SEAPA’s 2012 Press Freedom Report, Online media is the space to watch]

On the morning of 6 June 2011, a strange news item was sent via mailing lists and messages from newsroom to newsroom. A coffin had been delivered to the Jakarta Post offices at around 7:30 that morning. Shortly after, it was discovered that other media outlets including Tempo, Kompas, Metro TV and SCTV had also received similar coffins, made for children and containing labels bearing the funeral message “Rest In Peace” along with a white rose. Rumours circulated about the meaning of the message: was the media about to be subjected to a new form of intimidation, on top of the violence, threats, and lawsuits it already faced?

Some said it was time for the media to be introspective and self-critical, given the number of published stories that were accused of being biased and inaccurate. Indonesian Vice President Boediono had in a recent statement advised the media to reduce its “noise” level.

Although the coffin deliveries turned out to be part of an elaborate marketing strategy, the responses and fears this provoked offered a profound insight into the current state of the media in Indonesia.

While the fears raised by the events of 6 June were eventually shown to be misplaced, there is no denying that journalists have been victims of attacks both before and after the coffin deliveries, demonstrating a pervasive culture of violence and impunity. This in turn shows a wider lack of understanding of the important role of media and why it should be protected from intimidation.

Freedom of expression threatened by violence, impunity

On 15 March, a bomb blast at the Jakarta building housing SEAPA founding member ISAI (Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information) and radio station KBR 68H, injured two men, one of them a police officer. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) described the attack as a “brutal attack against freedom of thought and expression”. It was later discovered that the attack was directed at the Liberal Islam Network located in the same building.

On 3 May, a mob attacked the offices of Sumatra newspaper The Orbit, injuring three reporters and causing substantial damage to office equipment. Eighteen people were arrested after the attack, including the director of PT Wahana Dewata Mandiria, a company exposed by the newspaper as a gambling sponsor.

On 16 September, Trans7 cameraman Angga Octaviardi was attacked violently by students when he refused to stop recording a brawl between two students in a Jakarta high school. His recording of the incident was snatched. Octaviardi was wearing a uniform and journalist ID card.

On 11 December, the home of journalist Dance Henukh was attacked by a mob, which he later said had been sent to his house by a village head. Henukh, working for local newspaper Rote Ndao News in Kuli Village in East Nusa Tenggara province, had reported the alleged misappropriation by local officials of over USD300,000 in funds meant for a migrant housing project. The journalist’s one-month-old-child reportedly died of shock during the attack. Two days later, a mob set his house on fire in the middle of the night. Despite the death of his child and threats sent to Henukh and other local journalists reporting on local corruption, there has been little progress so far in the police investigation.

In many parts of the country, journalists face a very real threat of violence not only from the public but also from the state.

Press access to Indonesia’s Papua area continues to be tightly controlled. Foreign journalists and human rights researchers are unable to travel to the region troubled by a separatist movement as police and military keep a close watch on media visitors. In August 2011, internal military documents surfaced, revealing the extent of military control over press freedom, with several individuals named as ‘subjects of surveillance’ who have faced arrest, harassment and violent assault.

In October 2011, David Robie, Director of the Pacific Journalism Review, stated that over the preceding year there had been “two killings of journalists, five abductions, or attempted abductions, 18 assaults, including a stabbing of journalist by two people on a motorbike and… repeated cases of intimidation and aggression against journalists” in Papua.

On 3 March, Banjir Ambarita, the Papua-based correspondent for and Jakarta Globe was stabbed in Jayapura. Although no one was arrested, Jakarta Post quoted sources as saying that the attack may have been connected to a sex scandal involving police officers in Jayapura. Ambarita had reported the scandal, leading to the resignation of the town’s police chief on 1 March.

Little progress in ensuring justice

The year saw little progress in bringing justice to several cases of violence against journalists. No arrests were made after the violent attack on Banjir Ambarita in early 2011. There has been no progress in the police investigation of the attack on journalist Dance Henukh. The murders of prominent journalists in previous years, particularly Kompas reporter Adriansyah Qomar Wibisono Matrais and Pelangi editor-in-chief Alfret Mirulewan still remain unsolved.

Moreover, on 9 March, the Tual State Court acquitted the three accused in the murder of Sun TV cameraman Ridwan Salamun who was killed while filming in the eastern province of Maluku on 21 August 2010.

Judicial and criminal investigative processes in Indonesia, although considerably improved since the Suharto era, remain weak at both individual and systemic  levels. However, the consistent inability of Indonesian authorities to expedite criminal proceedings in cases of deadly violence against journalists  suggests at best, an unwillingness to fully commit resources to these investigations, and at worst, a level of complicity in the crimes themselves.

According to the Legal Aid Foundation of the Press (LBH Pers), a total of 96 acts of violence were committed against members of the press in Indonesia in 2011, up from 69 in 2010. Much of this can be attributed to general ignorance of protection of the press under the Indonesian press law. A large proportion of these attacks (22 of 96) were committed by members of the state armed forces.

Eko Maryadi, chairman of the Alliance for Independent Journalists (AJI), admitted that “almost half of the cases resulted from journalists not being professional in their work”. Violent attacks, however, will only exacerbate the difficult conditions faced by professional journalists in Indonesia today.

Thorny issues amidst censorship

Amidst continuing media censorship, the year saw crackdowns on freedom of assembly, particularly during the latter half of 2011. A peaceful December rally in Timika, near the Freeport mine, to mark 50 years since Papua’s declaration of independence reportedly came under fire after protesters raised the Morning Star, the Papuan flag of independence. Although the military maintained its dispersal of the protesters was peaceful, activists reported several people being wounded in the military action.

The police dispersal of the 10 October Freeport industrial action took a controversial turn when it was revealed that police were paid by PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI) to control workers protesting the illegal dismissal of over 1000 PTFI employees for demanding a wage hike. Two protesting workers were killed in the police action and several others seriously injured.

Elsewhere in the country, observers noted a link between close Jakarata-Beijing ties and state intimidation of media and censorship. On 7 May, four journalists covering the Falun Gong protests in Surabaya City were brutally attacked by police officers. Lukman Rozaq of Trans7 network, Septa Rudianto of Radio El Shinta Surabaya, TVRI cameraman Joko Hermanto and New Tang Dynasty contributor Eko Oscar Nugroho were at the scene of a peaceful gathering by the exiled Chinese spiritual movement when they were attacked. East Java police spokesperson Rachmat Mulyana told Jakarta Post that China’s Ambassador had asked the Indonesian government to restrict Falun Gong activities in the country.

On 8 September 2011, Gatot Michali, manager of Radio Era Baru, was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 50 million Rupiah (USD5,800) for broadcasting without permission and disrupting other radio broadcast frequencies. Human rights groups alleged his conviction was the result of  Chinese government pressure over the station’s Chinese language broadcasts on human rights violations in China. Journalists reporting on Falun Gong activities have faced similar intimidation and silencing in other Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam and Malaysia.

On 28 July, TempoTV journalist Syarifah Nur Aida was physically assaulted while reporting on a land dispute involving locals in and the Air Force base Rumpin District in Bogor. The attackers took away the reporter’s camera memory card, and because of the nature of the attack she was unable to identify her attacker. An Air Force official reportedly later visited the injured journalist to inquire about her condition.

After openness, comes secrecy

The passage of the State Intelligence Law on 11 October 2011 restricted Indonesians’ access to official information and intruded on their privacy. The law allows the state intelligence agency to intercept private communications without judicial approval.

Although some of the law’s more controversial provisions were adjusted after consultation with civil society groups, the intelligence law potentially contradicts the 2008 Law on Public Information Disclosure. The  prohibition on revealing or communicating ‘state secrets’ is not clearly defined, and could be interpreted to include ‘state information’ as defined n the 2008 law. As such, the law could violate the public right to access state information.

Although Indonesia is one of only two Southeast Asian countries to pass freedom of information laws, their implementation has been disappointingly slow, and 2011 was no exception. As of September 2011, only nine Provincial Information Commissions and only one District Information Commission had been set up.

Most public bodies have not appointed Information and Documentation Managing Officers as required by the 2008 Law on Public Information Disclosure. While individuals can lodge complaints against the Regional or Central Information Commission, full freedom of information can only be realised when the legislation has been implemented at every level, including within the public consciousness. It is vital that the Indonesian government, civil society groups, and the media continue to work toward that goal.

In 2012, parliament is expected to enact the State Secrecy Law to complement the State Intelligence Law, which will yet provide another hurdle to access to information. First introduced in the mid-1990s, the State Secrecy Bill was renewed in 2009 – ironically just one year after the Law on Public Information Disclosure. According to local group Yayasan SET, as well as the Centre for Law and Democracy, the public information disclosure law has adequate provisions to safeguard legitimate confidentiality interests to render the Bill unnecessary. The 2009 draft law was held up in parliament due to widespread protests by civil society groups. Critics say there has still not been any process of public consultation on the draft legislation. Despite changes in the new draft, which is expected to be tabled in the House of Representatives, the Bill’s overly broad definition of state secrets is cause for concern.

Religious threats to online and offline freedom of expression

The Indonesian online space continued to expand, although not without controversy. A social media giant, Indonesia has the largest number of Twitter users in the region, with 2.4 million accounts – the sixth biggest in the world. With 33.9 million accounts, it also has the second largest number of Facebook users in the world, a number that is expected to continue growing. With over one million registered blogs, citizen media is well established in Indonesia.

However, conservative Islamic groups have been vocal in their opposition to social media like Facebook and Twitter as tools of Western imperialism. In 2011, a fundamentalist group labeled Facebook ‘haram’ or forbidden for Muslims. In a possible nod to conservative attitudes, the government has introduced draft legislation on mandatory Internet filtering, making Internet service providers (ISPs) responsible for filtering content deemed blasphemous or defamatory, in addition to existing restrictions on pornographic content. It remains to be seen how this will endanger online freedom of expression for the overwhelmingly Muslim population.

In certain Indonesian provinces, religion continues to be a central issue for freedom of expression. In October, the Bekasi municipality banned all Ahmadiyah religious practices, stating these were in violation of the spirit of the Constitution.  This was the last in a series of legal actions beginning in 2005, which have labeled the Islamic religious minority’s practices as heretical and blasphemous. According to the city administration, there are approximately 200 Ahmadiyah followers in the municipality.

On 28 July, 12 Islamic militants were given light jail sentences of three months for an attack on Ahmadiyah followers in Cikeusik in February 2010. Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission condemned the police for condoning, if not allowing, the attack. The Commission also criticised prosecutors for presenting laughably weak cases against the attackers and putting the blame on Ahmadiyahs for provoking the attack by refusing to leave their homes. The case threatens to further erode religious tolerance, which has come under increasing strain as political leaders in Indonesia fail to send out a clear message condemning religious violence.

In mid-December, Aceh police detained 59 youth for 10 days, shaving their heads and stripping them of their clothes and piercings, which they said were un-Islamic. The young people were arrested while attending a punk rock concert in the relatively conservative province. The detainees were subjected to ‘re-education’, including being thrown into pools of water and performing recitations from the Quran.


As anticipated last year, new laws that potentially threaten existing progressive legislation, have been put back on the table, namely the State Intelligence Law and the Secrecy Bill. It remains to be seen what civil society can do to put the brakes on the latter.

Indonesia will be up for the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in June 2012. Despite improvements since the first commitment, much remains to be done to improve human rights standards in the country. Given that the Indonesian government played a lead role in promoting human rights values in Southeast Asia, its commitment to the global body in the second round should be monitored closely.

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