Indonesia should adopt measures to ensure state security forces who physically attack journalists are suspended and appropriately prosecuted, Human Rights Watch has said.
Research shows a disturbing increase in assaults on journalists in the past two years, the rights group said.
Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which chose Jakarta as global host for its annual World Press Freedom Day commemoration on May 3, should use the occasion to publicly address the increase in assaults on journalists and urge President Joko Widodo to take more decisive action in response, it said.
“World Press Freedom Day should be a time to celebrate the role journalists play in society, but in Indonesia the focus too often is on reporters’ fears,” said Phelim Kine deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“The Indonesian government should reverse the dangerous deterioration of press freedom in the country and prosecute security force personnel who assault journalists.”
The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), a nongovernmental union, reported that there were 78 incidents in 2016 of violent attacks on journalists, including by security forces, compared with 42 in 2015, and 40 in 2014.
AJI found that the attackers have been brought to justice in only a very few of those 78 incidents.
Indonesia’s 1999 Press Law provides explicit protection for journalists, including up to two years in prison and fines of 500 million rupiah (US$44,000) for anyone who physically attacks a journalist.
The abuses included destruction of journalists’ equipment, harassment, intimidation, threats, and assault.
These abuses have occurred in all of Indonesia’s major islands, typically in provincial capitals and smaller cities. They are less common in Jakarta, where journalists are more aware of their rights and are supported by stronger professional organizations.