Klojen (Surya Malang) – Journalists in the East Java city of Malang held a peaceful action at the Freedom Square to commemorate International Press Freedom Day on Friday May 3. This year's action was different from those held in previous years.
This year the protesters held a ruwatan (cleansing ritual) as a symbol of safety for journalists on the job. One of the journalists, M Badar Risqullah, was bathed in flowers by action coordinator Abdul Malik.
Student campus journalists also took part in the action. Malik said that this year's rally was motivated by the demand for an end to violence against journalists.
"Today we hold a ruwatan, the hope is that there will be no more violence against journalists", said Malik, who is also the secretary of the Independent Journalists Association (AJI) on Friday.
The ruwatan ceremony gave off an aroma and fragrant smell from the various type of flowers and water was also used as a symbolic washing away of crime and vice.
Malik said that according to the Reporters Without Boarders (RSF) press freedom index, Indonesia is still ranked at 124th place, meaning press freedom has stagnated and there has been no progress since 2018.
"Meanwhile the highest ranked country is Norway, second is Finland followed by Sweden in third", he explained.
In the ASEAN region, East Timor has the highest press freedom index of 84 followed by Malaysia with an index of 123, which is better than Indonesia. Meanwhile the Philippines is ranked 134, Thailand 136 and Singapore 151.
"RSF said that Indonesia's position has stagnated because of restriction on media access to report in Papua. Including the deportation by [immigration] officials of BBC journalists Rebecca Alice Henschke and Heyder Affan in February 2018 when they were covering a humanitarian story", he said quoting from a press release.
In addition to this, the Information and Electronic Transaction Law (UU ITE) continues to threaten press freedom in Indonesia. A report by the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) noted that between 2008 and 2018 there were as many as 245 people indicted under the UU ITE, including 14 journalists and seven media outlets.
AJI recorded that over a period of one year between May 2018 and May 2019, there were 42 cases of violence against journalists. The majority involved physical violence with 17 cases, criminalisation with seven cases and threats of violence or intimidation in six cases.
The majority of perpetrators were ordinary people with 10 cases, police with seven cases, ormas [social or mass organisations] six cases and government officials five cases.
The most recent case of such violence involved two journalists covering International Labour day in the West Java provincial capital of Bandung on May 1. The victims were Tempo photographer Prima Mulia and freelance journalist Iqbal Kusumadireza (Reza).
Journalists are demanding that the West Java regional police professionalism and security affairs division investigate the case and hand down sanctions against the police officers who committed the violence against Mulia and Kusumadireza.
"Given the state of press independence in Indonesian, Greater Malang journalists are calling on all journalist to comply with the code of ethics and hold fast to the Press Law in carrying out their journalistic work", Malik said.
In addition to this the protesters asked that all parties use the mechanisms regulated under the Press Law to resolve press disputes.
They also asserted that they want an end to impunity, investigations into and the reopening of cases of journalists that have been killed for doing their job. "[We] demand that President Joko Widodo open access for journalists to Papua", they asserted.
In a speech Malang city Indonesian Student Press Association (PPMI) General Secretary Ugik Endarto said that press freedom on campus often comes under threat. The most recent case was violence against a campus journalists in Makassar. "The act of violence was committed by a campus security guard", said Endarto.
According to Endarto, campuses are a place of academic endeavor and should be able to safeguard and provide space for press freedom. Not the opposite, making threats and even committing acts of violence against the student press.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Aksi Ruwatan Warnai Peringatan Hari Kebebasan Pers Internasional Di Kota Malang".]