SEAPA condemns Yogyakarta Police shutdown of World Press Freedom Day Activity

AJI Yogya

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) strongly condemns police authorities in Yogyakarta, Indonesia for forcing the cancellation of an event by the local chapter of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Aliansi Jurnalis Independen, AJI) on 3 May 2016.

AJI Yogyakarta planned to screen the film Pulau Buru Tanah Air Beta (Buru Island My Motherland) as part of its World Press Freedom Day commemoration.

The political documentary, about the seclusion of some 12,000 political prisoners in Buru during the anti-communist purge of the 1960s in Indonesia, earlier became controversial after a March screening in Jakarta was also stopped by the police as a “safety precaution” against threats to protest.

SEAPA believes that, in such instances, the police are duty bound to protect the organizers’ right to freedom of expression. Their action should have been to prevent violence threatened by groups opposed to the activity.

It is especially deplorable that this incident coincided on a day meant to highlight the importance of promoting and protecting universal human rights — freedom of opinion and expression, of the press, and access to information. Instead, the police have bowed to the demands of a group to ban the event and thus, turned a blind eye to intolerance.

We join our member, AJI Indonesia, in calling for an investigation of the incident and holding the police accountable.

 

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Please read the English translation of AJI Indonesia’s statement and report below. Click here to see the original statement in Bahasa Indonesia on the AJI website.

 

No. 011/AJI-Bid.Adv/P/V/2016

AJI Indonesia Press Statement:
Yogyakarta Case Tarnishes Indonesia in the International Sphere

The cancellation of Aliansi Jurnalis Independen Yogyakarta’s 2016 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) rally by the District Police (Polres) of Yogyakarta, has tarnished Indonesia’s reputation at the international level. Their act has only plunged lower the rank of Indonesia’s press freedom and freedom of expression. AJI Indonesia condemns the approach of the police that failed to provide an environment of public safety for the 2016 WPFD in Yogyakarta, commemorated concurrently around the world.

“Just when the whole world commemorates World Press Freedom Day, a contempt of rights for press freedom and freedom of expression was blatantly displayed in Yogyakarta. This shameful act of a group of people forcing their interest has only caused Indonesia’s rank in press freedom to plummet further. Apparently this anti-pluralism, intolerant group was not considered intrusive, hence they keep doing what they are doing,” said President of AJI Indonesia, Suwarjono in Jakarta, Wednesday (4 May 2015).

Particularly, this disgraceful act of the police happens only just a year before Indonesia hosts the World Press Freedom Day celebration in 2017.

Suwarjono added, the police have failed to provide a safe and secure atmosphere for the citizens who hold an event that is within their constitutional rights.

“The dismissal of the rally by the police on the grounds of differing views of a certain group has shown that the police was being discriminative. At other events, the police even protect fiercely. From eviction of residents to state officials’ events, even if they faced rejection or protests from other people, the event would still be held. The police protect, and guard the activity right through the end. Why didn’t they guard our event, with an excuse that there was a rejection from a certain group? They even disbanded the rally,” said Suwarjono.

The dismissal of the 2016 WPFD rally took place Tuesday evening, when dozens of journalists and activists of civil society movement in Yogyakarta held a commemoration at AJI Yogyakarta’s secretariat, at Jl. Pakel Baru UH 6/1124 Umbulharjo, Yogyakarta.

On Tuesday afternoon, during the preparation of the event, seven policemen in plain clothes from the District Police Unit (Polsek) of Umbulharjo, led by Head of Intelligence Unit Yogyakarta, Police Commissioner Wahyu Dwi Nugroho, accompanied by members of Military Sub-district Command of Umbulharjo, visited the secretariat of AJI Yogyakarta to ask if AJI had a permit for the event planned to be attended by Yogyakarta Provincial Chief of Police Brigadier General Prasta Wahyu Hidayat and Chief of District Police Yogyakarta, Prihartono Eling Lelakon.

Both were invited formally by AJI Yogyakarta.

Police action to question the permit was their entry point to inquire about the screening of “Pulau Buru Tanah Air Beta,” a film by Rahung Nasution that was to take place in the commemoration event. The police asked to cancel the screening since certain groups were against it. Chairman of AJI Yogyakarta, Anang Zakaria refused to comply to their request, while explaining that the film “Pulau Buru Tanah Air Beta,” is an ordinary documentary.

The police rejected the explanation and remained adamant to cancel the program. The police kept pressuring AJI Yogyakarta as the organizer, when just moments before the event commenced, Head of Operational Division, from Yogyakarta District Police, Police Commissioner Sigit Haryadi, arrived at the venue and break in to search for the person in charge. “Yogyakarta Chief of Police commanded that this event must be dismissed,” said Police Commissioner Sigit Haryadi.

Soon afterwards, dozens of people from one mass organization of Yogyakarta arrived. Their visit disturbed the atmosphere, they yelled in front of AJI’s office. The crowd provoked with accusations that the program was being infiltrated by a banned political party. When the situation got worse, a truck transporting fully armed policemen approached the location.

Amidst the intense situation, Police Commissioner Sigit Haryadi displayed a show of power by ordering the guests of 2016 WPFD commemoration to leave the venue. “To fellow guests, you all should leave this location. I cannot guarantee what will happen afterward,” said Sigit, the same policeman who banned AJI’s screening of “Senyap” in 2014. Nevertheless, the participants did not budge at all. They stayed at the location.

“If our pals here do love Yogyakarta, please stop this, I do not want any physical conflict. There is no X factor, I only want a conducive situation. Let us support a city of tolerance. We suggest that this program be dismissed,” said Sigit to the audience. “This activity should be disbanded,” he retorted. Since the argument heated up to a more emotional situation, AJI Yogyakarta’s Chairman, Anang Zakaria, asked the police to officially dismiss the event themselves.

AJI Indonesia, as parent organization of AJI, will file a lawsuit against the National Police for dissolving this rally. “We are finalizing plans to sue the National Police for this incident. This kind of treatment cannot be accepted,” said Iman D. Nugroho, Head of Advocacy Division of AJI Indonesia.

The cancellation of the rally adds to the long list of repressive acts committed toward citizens’ expression, in this case, AJI Yogyakarta. The guarantee of human rights to exercise freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 28F of 1945 Constitution of Indonesia. “Both national and international laws guarantee the right to get information and the right to disseminate information or to display expression,” Iman explained.

“This only adds to the long list of violence committed by the Indonesian police who was just awarded as the Enemy of Press Freedom during the WPFD commemoration. This is the 5th achievement for the Police since the award was first bestowed in 2007,” said Iman.

Jakarta, 4 May 2016
President of AJI Indonesia, Suwarjono (+62) 0818 758 624

Photo credit: AJI