Indonesia: Journalist arrested for reporting on alleged corruption

Mohammad Sadli Saleh, the chief editor of was arrested for publishing an article covering alleged corruption connected to road construction in Central Buton district, South East Sulawesi. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia condemn the arrest and urge authorities to release Sadli from prison.

One of the trial against Mohammad Sadli Saleh, the chief editor of Credit: AJI Kendari

Sadli published the article on July 10, 2019 questioning the budget of the road construction project but was not arrested until five months later on December 17, 2019. Sadli’s article was originally published on Liputanpersada.comand widely circulated on various Facebook and WhatsApp groups; the website was later taken down.

The head of Central Buton district reported Sadli to the police on July 27, 2019, accusing him of violating the Electronic and Information and Transactions (ITE) Law. The police charges alleged that Sadli’s article was defamatory and spread information that might insight hatred.

Police put Sadli under city arrest on December 11, 2019 and seized his notebook for evidence. On December 17, 2019, the prosecutor’s office took over the case and Sadli was arrested. Sadli’s trial began on January 20, 2020. He remains incarcerated and faces up to six years in prison if convicted.  

The case has had far reaching impacts beyond Saldi, including the termination of his wife’s employment. Sadli’s wife, Siti Marfuah who worked for the Local House of Representative of Regency Central Buton (DPRD) since 2015 was asked by her employer to persuade her husband to stop covering the corruption related to the road construction. Marfuah was later fired.

AJI noted the libel case against Sadli violates the Press Law. According to AJI, Article 15 of the Press Law says it is the role of the Press Council to solve complaints made by the public on the press’ reportage, not the government. Further, the police have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Press Council stating if the police receive disputes between journalists and the public, the police must follow the conflict resolution scheme in the Press Law.

“We demand the authorities follow the Press Law and the MoU and urge the revision of the ITE Law to drop the elastic clauses which can be used to criminalized journalists. We ask the head of the district of Central Buton to respect press freedom and journalists’ safety,” AJI added.

The IFJ said: “The Press Council mechanisms were enacted to resolve disputes between the media and the public. Escalating the case to a criminal matter undermines Sadli’s ability to work as a journalist and corrodes press freedom in Indonesia. The IFJ condemns the arrest and urges the government to release Sadli from custody.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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