Indonesia: North Sulawesi police summon and harass local journalists

North Sulawesi police have harassed and intimidated members of the press in two separate incidents. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliates, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia and SINDIKASI, in condemning the harassment and intimidation of members of the press and urging the authorities to respect their obligations under Indonesian Press Law.

Police Officers in Java in 2020. Police in Indonesia have obligations under Indonesian Press Law, requiring conflicts to be sorted through the Press Council Credit: Adek Berry / AFP

On October 29, police officers from Polres Tomohon, North Sulawesi, summoned local Manado Pos journalist Julius Laatung for his coverage of an illegal lottery. In a statement to his home newspaper, Laatung said he was approached by five police officers and forced to come to Tomohon Police station. Law enforcement allegedly demanded Laatung surrender his phone, which the journalist refused.

On the way to the police station, police officers interrogated Laatung, demanding that he betray the confidentiality of his sources. The interrogation continued at the Tomohon Police Criminal Investigation Unit for around two hours, wherein police questioned the journalist’s ethics and accused him of publishing the story to discredit the police. The head of Tomohon’s Precinct police has since apologised for the interrogation.

In a separate incident on November 7, North Sulawesi police harassed and arrested Sulawesian reporter Noufriadi Sururama while he was at a land dispute protest in Mandolang. Police officers asked for Sururama’s identity card, but according to reports did not respect his press card. Law enforcement apprehended the journalist, tearing his shirt in the process. Sururama was detained and taken to the Manado Precinct Police office.

In 2017, the Indonesian Press Council signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Police, agreeing to decriminalise journalistic practice and respect press freedom. Under the Indonesian Press Law, disputes over news reporting must be settled through a press council mechanism, which includes the right to reply and corrections.

SINDIKASI said: “Intimidation creates a climate of fear for journalists to criticise the police. SINDIKASI urges the police to impose sanctions on its members who intimidated the journalists and ensure all police officers respect press freedom.

AJI said: “Press Law guarantees protection for journalists. AJI condemns what police officers did to Laatung and all forms of intimidation that threaten press freedom. The precinct police of Tomohon must respect the MoU with the Press Council. Further, Police must provide an official statement on why they arrested Sururama along with several protestors. If Sururama was detained because of his duties as a journalist, then this is clearly a violation of press law”

The IFJ said: “Intimidation of the press must end. Journalists and media workers must be allowed to do their jobs safely and freely. The IFJ urges the police to respect their obligations under Indonesian Press Law and cease their harassment and intimidation of journalists and media workers.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

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

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