This month the IFJ is running a campaign to end impunity of crimes against journalists. In this first week we want to highlight triumph stories in the Asia Pacific of cases that have been successfully resolved. These cases illustrate the importance of prosecuting attacks against journalists for maintaining press freedom, and free and fair democratic societies. This second case tells the story of Indonesian journalist Anak Agung Narenda Prabangsa.
Anak Agung Narendra Prabangsa (1968-2009)
Anak Agung Narendra Prabangsa, 41, was reporter with the Indonesian language daily Radar Bali since 2003. He was reported missing on February 12, 2009, after he was untraceable for a day. Prabangsa had been receiving threatening phone calls and text messages on his cell phone for a few weeks before he disappeared. Some days later, Prabangsa's motorbike was found in his hometown of Taman Bali, Bangli Regency. Farmers spotted his body on February 15, floating in the sea off the small coastal town of Padangbai. An autopsy revealed injuries on his head and face, a broken wrist, and concluded that he had been thrown into the sea while still alive.
The murder sent shock waves through the media community, particularly because Prabangsa was a popular and much-loved colleague. His co-workers reported to the police that he had been threatened by unknown people, and urged them to seek a connection between his reportage and the murder. An Advocacy Team for the Prabangsa case was set up in February 2009 under the leadership of the Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI), Denpasar. The team studied articles that might have prompted his opponents to silence him. At least three such stories were written by Prabangsa himself and all the stories which exposed corruption were connected to Bangli, Prabangsa’s birthplace and were produced in December 2008, around two months before he vanished. According to AJI, Indonesia, one of Prabangsa's stories was about alleged corruption in the development of education facilities by Bangli Education Agency worth Rp 4 billion (approx USD 300,000).
A number of organisations such as Indonesia Journalists Association of Bali, Indonesia Journalists Association of Reform, Independent Journalists Association of Bali, Multimedia Journalists Association of Bali, and Indonesia Television Journalists Association of Bali agreed to form the ‘Solidarity of Bali Journalists’ to monitor the Prabangsa case.
The team steadily gained more support: advocates, activists of NGOs, politicians and religious figures came on board. This alliance with civil society proved invaluable in building up the pressure. This was also the first time that police, prosecutors and judges, jointly worked on a case of journalist’s murder based on strong legal principles.
Cracking the case
In early April 2009, a number of journalists started to understand the role played by Nyoman Susrama, brother of Bangli Regent I Nengah Arnawa, in a number of development projects in Bangli. Susrama was a contractor who often won the bidding process on several projects offered by the Bangli administration. Prabangsa’s articles had highlighted this irregularity in governance. This correlation was strong enough to dispute the view that Prabangsa had been killed due to a love affair, or even that blackmail was the motive.
Police alleged that Nyoman Susrama, a legislative council member for the district of Bangli, a large city in eastern Bali, and accomplices had seized Prabangsa from his home on February 11. Police arrested a local politician and several accomplices in the killing, which they said was motivated by the reporter's coverage of a local government project.
In May 2009, three months after Prabangsa’s body was found, police named six suspects: Komang Gede, Nyoman Rencana, I Komang Gede Wardana, Dewa Sumbawa, Endy, and the mastermind behind the case, Nyoman Susrama, brother of Bangli Regent. According to confessions of some of the defendants, Prabangsa was murdered in Susrama's house in Banjar Petak, Bebalang, Bangli, in the evening of February 11, 2009. Prabangsa was persuaded to come to the house and was severely beaten with wooden beams. The dying journalist’s body was then thrown out to the sea.
Four of the alleged conspirators were no ordinary people, but state officials who wielded enormous influence in Bangli. Susrama was also a politician from the powerful Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). During the investigations, the elections were held on April 5, 2009 and Susrama ran for member of the Bangli Regional House of Representatives (DPRD). Once he was accused by the police, he set up a team of legal advisors who were also high-ranking officials in the PDIP, Bali. The police were reluctant to pursue the case and investigations were all leading to a dead end. It was only sustained pressure that kept the case alive, and allowed forensic evidence to be gathered, which proved crucial to cracking the case.
The subsequent manipulation in the court, threatening witnesses and withdrawal of confessional statements were all designed to scuttle the case, but the prosecution did not give up. AJI Denpasar, in alliance with a team of lawyers, monitored the case in court. Along with the media community, Balinese traditional communities, politicians, political parties, and a Facebook fanpage, pressure was consistently brought to bear to solve the case.
A year after Prabangsa’s murder, the court passed a verdict which brought the perpetrators to book. Nyoman Susrama, the mastermind behind the killing of Anak Agung Narendra Prabangsa, was sentenced to life imprisonment. The District Court of Denpasar also gave other eight defendants sentences between eight months and 20 years in prison.
Four months later, September 24, 2010, the Supreme Court rejected all appeals and gave a final verdict. In a special press conference, Chief of Supreme Judges, Artidjo Alkostar, upheld the verdict for the six perpetrators: life sentence for Susrama, 20 years in prison for Rencana, Komang Gede, and Mangde. In addition, Maong and Dewa Sumbawa got eight years in prison.
Beyond the verdict, in a move to strengthen rule of law and challenge the impunity of powerful perpetrators, the Bali Journalists Solidarity consisting of journalist associations like AJI; Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia (PWI) Reform; Perwani, and Prestasi Junior Indonesia; sued Suryadharma (Susrama’s lawyer) in the forum of the Indonesia Advocates Association (Peradi) on alleged manipulation of witnesses and coercing them to commit perjury.
Prabangsa’s family, press community, and the residents of Bali welcomed the verdict, believing that justice has been served. In a closure of sorts, on September 17, 2011, two and a half years after his death, Prabangsa’s family performed the ngaben (cremation) ritual.