Indonesian Journalists Report Assaults in Protests After Elections

Crews from ABC News Australia are the latest journalists to report they faced intimidation and assault as they reported on the Jakarta protests after President Joko Widodo was confirmed the winner of last month’s general elections, increasing concern over press freedom in Indonesia.


The Jakarta Foreign Correspondent Club (JFCC), with members who are foreign journalists and correspondents in Indonesia made a similar appeal. “We are deeply concerned to learn that journalists have been intimidated and even physically attacked during the recent protest rallies in Jakarta,” said the JFCC in a statement. “Some of our members have been targeted during rallies and also on social media in what needs to be addressed to prevent this becoming a threat to press freedom in Indonesia.”


Eight people were killed and more than 900 hurt on May 21 and 22 in two nights of fighting between security forces and supporters of defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto. Security officials said they believe the violence was organized by several groups, including one linked to the Islamic State and another to a retired special forces general accused of smuggling weapons to Jakarta.


ABC correspondent for South East Asia David Lipson on May 26 tweeted a correction saying his crew was attacked “by protestors, not police. Everyone is OK, thanks to a soldier to who stepped in.”  

Lipson’s tweet corrected information released by Amnesty International Indonesia and the Indonesian Journalists’ Association (AJI). The two groups had said police intimidated the ABC journalists.  


Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international non-profit that advocates for journalists and press freedom, said that in Indonesia, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo did not keep campaign promises during his five-year term. His presidency was marked by serious media freedom violations, and the military is known to “intimidate reporters and even use violence against those who cover their abuses”, referring to AJI.


In the annual RSF World Press Freedom Index Indonesia was 124 of 180 countries surveyed, as it has been since 2017. In 2013, it was 139.


Two Associated Press journalists, Stephen Wright and Niniek Muji Karmini, reported they were intimidated on social media. People who claimed they were Prabowo supporters published personal information about the journalists, who then received threats such as “We will take care of her.”


Prabowo, a former general, represented Indonesia’s traditional elites, and now refuses to concede that he lost the April 17, 2019 vote.


More than 20 journalists have reported that they were intimidated, persecuted and assaulted during the street protests against the election count released on May 21 by Indonesia’s General Elections Commission, the Komisi Pemilihan Umum, which is popularly known as KPU.


AJI said that TV and radio journalists were “physically assaulted, slapped, intimidated, persecuted and threatened, not only by police but also protesters. Some of them were forced to delete their documentation—photos, audio and video—and some equipment was seized. One journalist’s motorcycle was set on fire.”


AJI believes many attacks and cases of intimidation have gone unreported because journalists fear repercussion from the military or the police.

The journalists’ group called on authorities to investigate all of reported attacks and instances of intimidation against journalists. AJI also appealed to media owners and top editors to take responsibility for the safety of their journalists by providing appropriate training and covering the cost of injuries the journalists may have received while reporting.


The JFCC called on all parties, including those who oversee political campaigns and security forces, to respect the right of journalists to cover news. “Given the current heated political tensions, we also urge all journalists to take sensible precautions if they are required to cover rallies such as ensuring they operate in teams, position themselves in a location where they limit the risk of being hit by projectiles or physically targeted, and have suitable protective gear and a clear exit strategy,” said the JFCC in a statement.


Dedi Prasetyo, spokesman for Indonesia’s National Police on May 24 told VOA that the police have informed some editors in chief, the chairman of the Indonesian TV Journalist Association (IJTI), PWI (an Indonesian journalist association) and the Press Council that “in order to avoid more violence,” all journalists should be clearly identified, and examples of the identification shared with authorities “Please communicate with us,” he said. “Once we know the ID, we can brief our personnel to recognize that it identifies somebody as a journalist. We need to see a clear press ID.”


Niniek, who has reported from Jakarta for two decades, told VOA by phone that the “AP has increased their security measures in the Jakarta’ office. AP also asked me not to take public transportation now, and not to cover protest or riots or terrorism issues for a while.”


Niniek said that even though she was doxed through her personal Twitter account and the official AP account, “this kind of threat will never discourage me to continue my journalistic work.”

“During the Jakarta local election in 2017, I was also threatened, but I have to admit that what happened today is worse they posted, Stephens’ photo, our office address, and urged people to take actions against me.”


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