Nina A. Loasana, Jakarta – The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and Amnesty International Indonesia have condemned a series of attacks and harassment against journalists covering Golkar Party chairman Airlangga Hartarto and a recent discussion related to the party.
Two journalists from CNN Indonesia and Kompas TV were attacked by an unknown group on Wednesday when they were reporting the discussion held by Golkar's youth wing in Senayan, Central Jakarta.
The group, who claimed themselves as part of another Golkar youth wing, forcefully made their way into the restaurant where the event was supposed to be held.
One of the unknown men pushed a Kompas TV journalist who was trying to record the commotion. Members of the group also hit his face and slapped his camera. They then took and threw a mobile phone used by a journalist from CNN Indonesia to capture the incident.
During the one-hour-long ruckus, the unknown aggressors also attempted to break various pieces of reporting equipment, such as tripods, according to AJI.
Almanzo Bonara of the Golkar Party Youth Movement Group (GMPG) that organized the Wednesday discussion accused Golkar chair Airlangga of sending the group to stop the event, Kompas.id reported.
One of the speakers at the event was Ridwan Hisjam, who has openly called for Airlangga's removal through a Golkar extraordinary congress ahead of the 2024 presidential and legislative elections.
The Golkar central board has denied Almanzo's accusation and said the party did not consider the discussion a Golkar event.
CNN Indonesia editor-in-chief Titin Rosmasari said the media outlet had decided "to pursue further action in accordance with the law".
"Our journalist was carrying out his professional work to give relevant information to the public as mandated by the Press Law. [...] Intimidation against journalists violates their rights which are protected by the law," Titin said on Thursday.
The Wednesday incident occurred only two days after one of Airlangga's bodyguards allegedly threatened to shoot journalists who were trying to interview the coordinating economic minister when he was exiting the Attorney General's Office (AGO) headquarters in Jakarta on Monday night after undergoing an AGO interrogation.
Airlangga was questioned by AGO investigators as a witness in their investigation into a corruption case that has been blamed for contributing toward a domestic cooking oil shortage last year.
Airlangga gave a brief statement to the press in front of the AGO building after his 12 hours of questioning and some journalists followed him to his car to ask more questions. He struggled to get into his car due to the crowd and one of his bodyguards allegedly shouted to the journalists "Clear the way, or else I'll shoot you".
The AJI, along with the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers), said the recent violence against journalists could be categorized as censorship of journalistic works, which is a crime that carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and Rp 500 million (US$33,314) in fines.
"We urge all parties not to intimidate journalists and hinder their work," they said, demanding authorities investigate those involved in the incidents and advising media companies to educate their journalists about safety measures, especially in the tumultuous political year ahead of the 2024 general election.
Amnesty International Indonesia, meanwhile, said everyone must "protect press freedom and freedom of expression in the country".
Violence against journalists in Indonesia remains rampant amid weak protection against press freedom and the issuance of laws that limit civil liberties.
According to a 2022 AJI report, there were 61 attacks against journalists and media outlets last year affecting 97 victims. The attacks ranged from digital attacks, gender-based violence, arrests, criminalization and censorship.
The report said that more than a third of the attacks were carried out by the police, soldiers or government officials.