Press release

Indonesia: Journalists Risk Lives for Reporting on Environmental Impacts and Local Politics

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ARTICLE 19

13 Aug 2010

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The recent death of two environmental journalists, Ardiansyah Matra'is in Papua and Muhammad Syaifullah in Kalimantan, and the series of threats received by at least four local journalists in the run-up to local elections in Papua, underlines the intense pressure faced by journalists when covering environmental degradation and local politics in Indonesia. ARTICLE 19 is very concerned about these violations and calls on the Indonesian Government to ensure that media are able to operate in an environment free of coercion, pressure and harassment, including reporting about climate change and environmental issues.

The cause of death of Ardiansyah Matra'is, a journalist working in Papua, remains unknown since his naked body was found in the river Gudang Arand in Merauke on 30 July, with his arm tied to a tree, after going missing for two days. Papuan police said that the victim’s family have been reluctant to give permission for an autopsy.

Matra'is was a stringer for the national television broadcaster Anteve, before joining local broadcaster Merauke TV. He had received death threats in the days before his disappearance, and was allegedly kidnapped last year by soldiers who threatened to kill his family after he wrote a series of articles for Jubi magazine about illegal logging by local military officers.

Other journalists in Papua received a series of threats by SMS in the run-up to the 8 August election for district head in Merauke. In one incident, Lala, a reporter with Bintang Papua, received a bloodstained letter which read: “Remember, we’re not playing around with our threats. We know that the police are looking for the perpetrators. Sorry, we’re not dawdling. You die!” She has since been taken into protective custody by the police.

On 26 July, environmental journalist Muhammad Syaifullah was found dead in his home in Balikpapan, Borneo. Syaifullah was the Borneo bureau chief of Kompas, Indonesia's biggest daily newspaper, and reported extensively on illegal logging and environmental issues relating to coal mining. Local journalists believe that Syaifullah - who was found frothing at his mouth - was poisoned, casting doubt on the autopsy report which attributed the cause of death to a brain haemorrhage as a result of diabetes and hypertension.

These cases are evidence of the growing risks faced by journalists when reporting on environmental degradation and local politics in Indonesia, with threats escalating prior to local elections. In the last 12 months, the Alliance for Indonesian Journalists (AJI) documented 40 cases of violence against journalists with 12 instances of brutal assault in a recent report.

The protection of the free flow of information and public debate is fundamental to the realisation of meaningful democracy and to the mitigation of environmental impacts. ARTICLE 19 calls for the Indonesian government to conduct thorough and impartial investigations into these attacks on journalists and to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice.

“Journalists must be able to operate in a safe environment free from intimidation,” says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “The efforts to combat the impact of climate change will be significantly undermined should such violent acts against journalists go unpunished.”

In the report Changing the Climate for Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Information, published in December last year, ARTICLE 19 has indicated that climate change debates and interventions have failed so far to fully integrate and guarantee freedom of expression, and that journalists across the world have been threatened, harassed or prosecuted by authorities or companies, and risked their lives to cover environmental degradation.

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS:
• For more information please contact: Amy Sim, Senior Programme Officer for Asia, ARTICLE 19, at amy@article19.org, or +44 207 324 2500
• To view the ARTICLE 19 report Changing the Climate for Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Information, go to: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/changing-the-climate-for-freedom-of-expression-and-freedom-of-information.pdf

See the full text at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/indonesia-risk-lives.pdf