Padang – The Jakarta Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers) are calling on the national police (Polri) to fully investigate the violence committed by police against journalists covering the protest actions against the recently enacted Omnibus Law on Job Creation on Thursday October 8.
"Polri is obliged to fully investigate cases of violence committed by police personnel against journalists covering the protest actions against the Jobs Law; as well as following up on reports of similar cases which occurred last year [during the September 2019 anti-government protests]", said Jakarta AJI Chairperson Asnil Bambani in a press release on Friday October 9.
Bambani said that AJI Jakarta and the LBH Pers recorded that at least seven journalists fell victim to violence by members of the police during yesterdays' demonstrations in Jakarta. This number could still grow.
One of the cases of violence was against CNN Indonesia journalist Thohirin who said he was struck in the head and his mobile phone smashed by police as he was trying to cover police dispersing protesters in the Harmoni area of Central Jakarta.
Thohirin was clearly identified as a journalist. Aside from his journalists' identification card which was shown to police, he also wore a waistcoat with the words "Press" printed in large letters, as well as a helmet with a red CNN Indonesia sticker on it.
Police however continued to intimidate him and then seized his mobile phone which he was using to for his work as a journalist then smashed it because it contained photographs of police throwing a demonstrator to the ground.
Another incident of violence was suffered by Suara.com journalist Peter Rotti who was covering the demonstrations in the Thamrin area of Central Jakarta. He was recording a police officer setting upon a demonstrator when he was approached by a person wearing all black who is suspected to be a Mobile Brigade (Brimob) paramilitary police officer.
The police officer demanded he hand over his camera but Rotti refused saying he was a journalist who was officially covering the protests and his work is protected by law. Police ignored Rotti then seized his camera. Rotti himself was dragged, punched and kicked by a group of police officer until his arms and temple was left bruised and bleeding.
Another incident was experienced by merahputih.com journalist Ponco Sulaksono who disappeared for several hours before it was finally discovered he had been taken away by police.
Sulaksono was detained by the Metro Jaya regional police. A Radar Depok journalist, Aldi, managed to record the moment when Sulaksono was released from a detention vehicle. Aldi stood his ground when police saw him recording the incident. Unfortunately, he too was arrested.
AJI Jakarta and the LBH Pers also noted that the police were not averse to arresting student press journalists covering the demonstrations who were taken to the Metro Jaya regional police.
"AJI Jakarta and the LBH Pers state that the mistreatment and blocking of journalists' work is a violation of Law Number 40/1999 on the Press", said Bambani.
Moreover, according to Bambani, police violence against journalists is frequent and repeated. During the #ReformasiDikorupsi (Reform Corrupted) protest actions in September 2019, security forces also attacked journalists covering the demonstrations. To this day however, the cases have yet to be resolved despite having been reported to police.
"Polri's ethical sanctions aren't enough to punished alleged perpetrators of violence. In October 2019 we reported four cases of violence (two criminal complaints and two complaints with the police's professionalism and security affairs division), but not one ended up before the courts", said Bambani.
Aside from asking the police to fully investigate the violence against journalists, AJI Jakarta and the LBH Pers is also appealing to media editors to provide legal support for journalists who fall victim to police violence, as a form of accountability.
The groups also appealed to other journalists who have been victims of violence and intimidation by police to have the courage to report their cases and strengthen solidarity with other journalists. "[We also] urge the Kapolri [National police chief] to release [all] journalists and student press journalists who are being detained", said Bambani.
Violence against journalists also occurred during anti-Omnibus Law protest in the Central Java provincial capital of Surabaya.
The Press Council has slammed the violence by police against journalists both in Jakarta as well other cities that were covering the anti-Omnibus Law protests.
The head of the Press Council's Commission for Complaints and Upholding Press Ethics, Arif Zulkifli, asserted that journalists are not allowed to be assaulted, mistreated or harassed while doing their job. Journalists carrying out their work are protected under the 1999 press law.
"[We] deeply regret the violence against journalists during the demonstrations yesterday. The Press Council and constituent press association are supporting advocacy [for the journalists]", he told CNN Indonesia on Friday.
Zulkifli said furthermore, that they are currently discussing advocacy for the journalists, and in relation to the violence suffered by journalists covering the Omnibus Law protests, will coordinate advocacy efforts first with the LBH Pers.
"The Press Council is coordinating with the LBH Pers. Helping our friends who were victims. [We're] coordinating with the LBH Pers as one step, the Press Council is currently discussing the technical issues of the advocacy", said Zulkifli.
In response to the alleged violence by police in Jakarta meanwhile, Metro Jaya regional police public relations head Senior Commissioner Yusri Yunus instead appealed to them to report the violence to the national police's professionalism and security affairs division.
Separately, national police public relations division head Inspector General Argo Yuwono said that actually the police not only provided security for the actions, but also protected journalists.
If however the situation starts to become chaotic, he continued, police officers end up focusing on protecting themselves.
"Certainly we have to respect and protect journalists, but because the situation was chaotic and anarchic, the officers also [had to] protect themselves", said Yuwono at the national police headquarters on Friday. (yoa/kid)
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "AJI-LBH Pers Desak Polri Usut Kekerasan Aparat pada Jurnalis".]