In this episode, Bonnibel Rambatan, Fadiyah Alaidrus, and Ade Wahyudin talks about Indonesia’s police brutality and its effect on media freedom, police reform and other related policy advocacies, and how we can contribute to create change.
Welcome to New Naratif’s Southeast Asia Dispatches. I’m your host, Bonnibel Rambatan, Editorial Manager for New Naratif. New Naratif is a movement to democratise democracy in Southeast Asia, and this podcast is one of the ways we attempt to do just that.
One of the key pillars of democracy is the ability to freely criticise those in power. But as we all know, such is rarely the case in Southeast Asia. Whenever journalists criticise any police-related issues, it is no secret that they need to be extremely careful.
Over the last five years, the police have been a major perpetrator in violence against journalists in Indonesia. Worse is that they remain unpunished. Contrary to their explicitly stated principles, often known as Tri Brata and Catur Prasetya, police members in Indonesia contribute to plenty of human rights violations. They clearly do not protect and serve the people – just in case anyone still believes that.
Police brutality, of course, goes way beyond the issue of media freedom. Quite recently, it has been brought to public attention once again after the tragedy of Kanjuruhan on October 1st, 2022, where hundreds of people died due to the police’s irresponsible use of tear gas that goes against all international standards. You might have seen our feature story on that in New Naratif.
Hi, everyone. Nice to meet you all here. I’m Fadia. I’m New Naratif’s Content Editor, and I’m also a freelance journalist based in Jakarta.
That is Fadiyah Alaidrus, New Naratif’s Content Editor and the writer of said feature article. Mainly, they write about environmental, gender, and human rights issues. Their bylines can be found in The Wall Street Journal, Mongabay, Tirto.id, Tempo Magazine, Project Multatuli, and of course, New Naratif.
Hi, I’m Ade Wahyudin. I’m Executive Director of the LBH Pers, legal aid institution that focuses on the freedom of expression and freedom of press in Indonesia.
That is Ade Wahyudin, Executive Director of Press Legal Aid, or LBH Pers. LBH Pers is a non-governmental organisation founded in 2003 in Jakarta that focuses on realising a democratic civil society through legal aid efforts and advocacy for press freedom and freedom of expression in Indonesia.
In this episode, we will be talking about Indonesia’s police brutality and its effect on media freedom, police reform and other related policy advocacies, and how we can contribute to create change.
What is Media Freedom?
Thank you so much for being here. So let’s start with since we are talking about media freedom, right? So let’s just start with that.
What does media freedom mean to you? And what do you think are our challenges to that concept, to that idea? Fadiyah, maybe you can talk to us about that.
Okay, thank you Bonni. To me, media freedom means that journalists or media have control to write on any important issues without any intervention, but it still has a limitation, which is a set of ethics.
So as a journalist, I can write about any important issues without feeling unsafe during or after the process and then about the challenge I personally see there are two kind of challenge that we are facing.
The first one comes from the media environment itself. In Indonesia, the media environment is still male dominated, it still hold a very masculine and heroic perspective. It’s still very hard to write on several issues, for example gender issues, because most of the newsroom is still sexist and transphobic, et cetera. Furthermore, it becomes a harmful work environment for journalists or media workers, especially from marginal communities.
And then the second one comes from outside the media. For example, the censorship from the government and then the regulation that easily criminalises journalists and then the police brutality towards journalists, et cetera. So I think after all it is still unsafe for many journalists to make a reporting in Indonesia and we are still far from what you call as media freedom.
Thank you, Fadiyah. Bang Ade what do you think of media freedom?
Yeah, media freedom is when the journalists work safely, when the journalist working with no fear. And if there is any cases, the process is until the trial and perpetrator got the sanction, like that.
Yeah, that’s interesting because we have a lot of aspects here of media freedom that we touch upon. But right now we want to focus a bit more on police brutality and of course the roles of the government and how we might make that better.
So we had this case with Nurhadi a while back, right. For the listeners who are not familiar with that. Essentially there was a journalist from Tempo investigating embezzlement of tax money and so on. But then it became a whole mess where he got his gadgets confiscated and then there were rumors that, authorities are being very violent towards towards him for just wanting to interview certain sources from the government, right.
So this leads the Indonesian Press Council to state that the government has yet to provide a protection mechanism for journalists. And of course you in LBH Pers, you stated that the judges failed to take advantage of the momentum presented by the case to protect press freedom, right.
So here we have like the government, the police, even the judges, they seem to not reach the bare minimum to protect media freedom, to protect the journalists. So could you elaborate more on this and how you see this situation, Bang Ade?
Yeah, in Nurhadi case where Nurhadi as a Tempo journalist committed unfair or he got violence from the police member and then Nurhadi reported to the police and the case going to the trial process.
I think also the good point because so many case are not going to the trial process, and for the Nurhadi case is going to trial process and many article were indicated by the public prosecutor such as Press Law and article on the persecutions and unfortunately the accused was only prosecuted by the Press Law and they got the penalty or sanctions.
And in this case it’s not entirely considered unsuccessful because it must be admitted by bringing the perpetrator of violence against journalists, especially the perpetrator are member of the police to the court is quite difficult.
But unfortunately the sanctions that were released were not our expectations is under one year prisons. It’s very under our expectations.
MoU with the Police
Yeah, but you see this as a progress still, right? Do you think we can move forward with criticising the police to protect the journalists?
Because again, with the Indonesia Press Council lately we’ve been more active towards building protection mechanism for journalists from the government.
Do you see the government in its future role being more concerned toward this or are you still pessimistic?
Yeah, not really optimistic, but we have already like MoU press council with the police. And this also I think is good point for our press freedom because there is no interpretations in the press law about the press dispute.
And the MoU is defined the press mechanism, press dispute and so many case is not going to the court or criminalisations when the journalist reported by defamation law and the case is not going to the court because this MoU also. But another case so many also cases going to the courts, but many cases helped by this MoU I think, yeah, we still optimist on this issue.
How to Protect Ourselves
Okay, thank you, Bang Ade, I want to ask Fadiyah then. Fadiyah, as a journalist criticising the police in your previous piece about police brutality, there are like cases, Nurhadi’s case for example, and then he suffered from violence at the hands of the police.
So there must be some kind of like fear and anxiety as well from you when you try to report on these cases, right?
So can you tell us a little bit more about that experience and how you protect yourself?
I faced several fears and anxiety, but what I try to do during this kind of reporting is that, well, ideally the government and the media company’s job to provide a protection to a journalist.
What I mean by protection is in the terms of physical, financial, digital and psychological like what you mentioned before. However, since the ecosystem is still far from ideal, the least thing that I can do is join a community of journalists, which in Indonesia is called AJI or Alliance of Journalists in Indonesia.
Well, in Indonesia we also have several other community collective or organisation as well, which I think it’s very important for a journalist to join a collective of journalists. Mas Ade is probably very familiar with AJI as well because he helped us a lot to provide legal help, et cetera.
So when the ecosystem still can’t protect us, what we can do is to help each other collectively, because as an individual journalist is very vulnerable, but as a collective we have much more power than we think we have, including to protect ourselves.
And then other than that, I also tried and still trying to manage a better digital security.
And then it’s also very important to ensure every detail that we write. For example, I remember Mas Ade also helped me around one or two years ago to proofread from a legal perspective on one of my police related pieces to ensure that there were no loopholes for criminalisation.
So yeah, I think that’s some little things that we can do as an individual and collectively, especially in this kind of environment where we still have lack of protection from the media industry and the government itself.
Police Brutality and Media Freedom
Yeah, again dealing with these kinds of violence, but then with all of the precautions, we see a rise of solidarity and movements and all of these collective collectivism. But also at the same time, we see a rise in cases of police brutality against journalists, which has been reported by AJI, the alliance of Independent Journalists in Indonesia.
So don’t quote me on this, but like 12 cases in 2021 and then 15 cases in 2022.
How do you see this dynamic like increasing collectivism, increasing solidarity among journalists, but also increasing violence? How do you see this play out? How do these cases impact media freedom in Indonesia?
Yeah, I see what you mean. Yeah, I think that along the way, as the attacks towards journalists increases, the awareness among journalists are also increases. Like before the cases were increases as much as these days, the awareness from journalists to have a collective movement is not as strong as we have today.
I personally don’t have the data for this, but I see that the younger generation of journalists also are very online in social media and the discourse around collective. The importance of having a collective in social media is also increases as well.
So I think that it impacts the increases of the awareness as well. And then on the other side, how does these things impact the media freedom itself? I think that it impacts media freedom in many ways.
For example, that the police cases against journalists is also impact media and self censorship. Like it increases self censorship in the media itself and especially when we try to write anything about police related issue critically.
But on the other side, we also have to learn, I mean, like the ecosystem push us to learn about the law more critically. That’s why I feel like it happened around probably three or four years ago, where many journalists start to critically see their piece and make sure there is no loophole for criminalisation, like what I did with Mas Ade. And I think that Mas Ade also helped many other journalists and media to do that kind of proofreads.
And then on the other side, what we see today is that it proves that the police existence in media environment tends to be a preparation rather than to protect journalist works, which means the existence of police institution today in Indonesia is threatened media freedom and democracy itself rather than protect it.
Yeah, so let’s follow up on that. I would like to get Band Ade’s opinion here about the police being a major perpetrator of violence against journalists in Indonesia.
And also, as Fadiyah mentioned, the existence of the police actually threatens democracy in this manner, right. So that brings us to the issue of potentials and I guess possibilities of police reform.
So the calls for police reform have been going on for years now, but the status quo is still here. We don’t see any change, if at all. So, yeah, I’d like to get your thoughts on this. What are your views on police reform.
Yeah, for the policy reform, so many homework in policy reforms, like first, eliminating the culture of the militaristic violence, so many demonstrations, police use physical violence.
And the second, also government should be strengthening the internal and external supervisor.
And the third is strengthening the capacity of the member of the police in the context of the criminalisation, the press or the violence. Many police, they do not fully understand the duty of the press under the place law. So there are many violation to journalist activity.
And the last, I think also the biggest problem or the biggest challenge is the culture of the impunity. Many case involved member of the police, some of which have been reported to the police also. But the legal process has been slow. The legal process is incomplete. The legal process is not bring to the court or trial process.
This is why so many case or violations every year and journalists, they didn’t report to the police because I think many journalists, they not really trust to the legal process. I think it’s a problem for the policy reform.
I mean, obviously it’s a tricky thing to report the police to the police when you don’t really trust the police as an institution itself and the process and the whole process of dealing with police violence.
So what do you think needs to be done in this manner? Like, where do you think the culture of impunity stems from and what needs to be done to mitigate that.
For the impunity, I think is need to bring the case until finish. And the many problem why the case is not going to the finish, because the perpetrator is the member of the police is related to how the head of the police using the internal control to monitor their member when the member is filed.
The press activity, I think it’s like political will from the police, from the head of the police to process the filing case to the journalists.
I see. On the other hand, though, there are laws that are when we try to report police brutality to the police, then obviously it’s, you know, we have a host of challenges, but the police themselves utilise laws which are like, you know, elastic, Pasal Karet, which are like elastic laws to pursue journalists itself which really makes matters worse, right.
So one of the things that you’ve been advocating for in el behalf is the revoking article 27 and 28 of the EIT law regarding defamation and hoaxes, right.
So how’s the progress so far and can you talk a little bit more about these laws?
Yeah, the article you said is very troubled article in our country because so many activists and journalists going to jail because this article and unfortunately it is not only in EIT law, this article also are in the new criminal court like fake news defamations also hate speech.
And for the progress in EIT law, currently the legislative are discussing about the revision of the law and our position is to push the article to be abolished or at least fighting for element that do not violate freedom of expression or freedom of the price.
And I think in this time also we invite the listener to monitor the legislative process also in the revision of the EIT law.
The Importance of Collaboration
Yeah, I want to jump to Fadiyah real quick right now because we’ve been talking about like grassroots movements and activism and stuff like that.
You did mention some stuff outside of this recording about how journalists are reacting to the defamation and hoaxes and EIT law in general. Maybe you can talk a bit more about that.
About what specifically, sorry?
About how the grassroots movements and how it’s actually responding to those criminalisations itself like #KitaSemuaBisaKena and stuff like that.
I see, okay. So actually I think Bang Ade know more about this but at least from what I see is that there are several things that we try to do.
For example, several journalists in Indonesia also makes a community, ;ole work together and then well for example there is a group of media that works together and at least for the last four or five years there are many many collaboration from media alternative or even media mainstream in Indonesia.
Why they are trying to do this kind of collaboration? Because it makes the article or the issues more impactful and with this kind of collaboration where four or five media publishing the same of issues, it makes it more harder for them to get a legal sue.
And then there is also a case where several media collaborate and then they use an anonymous name so they publish their article to use their name of collaboration instead and they don’t mention the name of each journalist.
So for example, as a reader, I don’t know who did the reporting and who wrote the article but what I know is this is the collaboration of several media. So whenever there is something or there is a backlash happen to this article, especially this also happened to some articles that bring sensitive issues such as corruption, et cetera.
If there is a backlash happen to them, then they are much more stronger because the attacks are is not going to attack some individual or a journalist, but it will attack a group of people.
And I know that Bang Ade also works to do the mitigation, et cetera, for this kind of collaboration. And I remember also work with Bang Ade for one of my collaboration, even though it’s not specifically about the police related issues.
But I think that it is one of the things that we realised for the last several years, especially since especially since Jokowi becomes a president, that it is more dangerous for a journalist to do such a sensitive reporting, especially with the EIT Law.
And then after that, after we realise collectively that we are much, much more vulnerable, and then we also realise that it is very important to work collectively and to do much, much more collaboration.
That’s from me.
Okay, I’d like to follow up on that, though. We have all of these collective actions from the journalists themselves.
But also coming back to the very first point that you mentioned about creating a safe space for journalists who are who come from marginalised communities, who have, like, marginalised identities in general, because, again, you have terrible experiences with the police, also relating to your gender and your presentation and all of that, right?
So forces of marginalisation come from both inside collectors, inside organisations, and outside, which is weaponised by the police and so on.
So what do you think can be improved here to create a safe space for these journalists if they want to make collectives?
Because I understand that some journalists, some journalists who have marginalised identities might hesitate to actually join in certain collective, certain movements just because they feel marginalised in that movement itself.
So what are your thoughts on that and what can we do to actually improve that situation?
Yeah, Bonnie, it’s a very interesting question, and it is actually still happening in Indonesia. Until today, we have a very few representation of queer or other marginalised community, like people who have disability, et cetera, in the collective itself.
So I think that it will be very hard for the journalist collective to demand for a safe space if the collective internal themselves are still very harmful and not inclusive yet.
So I think before we demand a big change, we also need to create a safe space within the organisation and collective itself. We need to keep learning and unlearning about what collective care and safe space mean.
Because what I see, we already have many collective with a lot of action in Indonesia, especially like in Jakarta, where I live, at least where I live today. But we still lack safe spaces for journalists from marginalised communities, like woman and queer. Meanwhile, they are more vulnerable to facing violence, including from the police.
So most of the action that happening today are actually based on the cis-male perspective. For example, whenever we talk about violence against journalists, we talk about violence such as murder, criminalisation, doxxing, et cetera.
But we rarely talk about gender based violence, which has also happened many times to journalists.
In conclusion, I think that doing the internal evaluation within the community or organisation is needed to push a better media environment and create a bigger, safe space.
What Can We Do?
Yeah, what interests me from that, from your perspective also because Bang Ade earlier mentioned that one of the things we need to reform in the police is that militaristic culture. And as we know, militarism is very much based on patriarchy.
It’s very much being masculine, being all of those things, being obviously, the militarism is known for being like queer phobic in all sorts of ways, but we have collectives also who inadvertently, they might not realise are replicating those things, right.
As you mentioned earlier, the narratives about heroism and journalism is like also militaristic who are up to the front lines in protests and all of these things that are really masculine heroes and all those things.
But you mentioned we need to reform collective action itself to have reflection based on those things. Bang Ade mentions that we need to demand police reform in a similar manner for reforming the culture of impunity, reforming the militaristic culture and those things.
I’m just trying to recap here. This isn’t exactly a question or a discussion, although I would actually like to ask from each of you. Maybe from Bang Ade first.
Realising that there are lots of things to improve and that are more cultural.
Just be observant and be mindful of the revisions of the law and all of those things. So maybe we can start there. What do you think we can do to bring together the public, to bring together our listeners?
What can the listeners do itself to participate in these kinds of processes and help create change? Bang Ade, what are your thoughts?
I think because the topic is related to the media freedoms, I think the first is for the journalists. For journalists, of course, in carrying out the journalistic work, the most important is the journalistic code of ethic. Because code of ethic is like this is to minimise the backlit due to the journalistic work.
And the second is for the public. There are many cases that prove the power of the Netizens in encouraging law enforcement is quite large. We can also reflect on the case that happened to a tax official recently, like Rafael case.
This case starts with the voice of the netizen who investigate the list of the asset. And currently the case is being processed by the Anticorruption Commission. And this case is so that the public has an important role in encouraging law enforcement and guarding our democracy.
I think this is like the simple example how the public participate to monitor the process of democracy, to monitor our government.
Fadiyah, Do you have any thoughts on this?
Okay, I think I just want to add a little bit more. I think that what we can do as a public, the least thing that we can do is to create a safe space around us. And if you have any people, including journalists around you that face some of these things or face discrimination or even violence, then listen to them, try to build a safe space for them, et cetera.
And then what? The other thing that we can do is that remember that as an individual, we are very vulnerable, but as a collective, we are powerful.
Build a safe space, build a collective or join a collective that already built before. And if you want to create a change, do it together instead of do it individually. But you can also do something individually, such as providing a care to your friend, to everyone surrounds you, and make sure about their safety, make sure about their health, their psychological condition, et cetera.
I think that’s it for me.
So here we can really see that moving as a collective is really, really important. Whether that’s collective care from the grassroots, as you mentioned, individually we are vulnerable, and collectively we can actually make change, whether that’s providing care or monitoring cases and just pushing for change and just demanding change on social media through our networks and everything else so that we have a voice.
Just realising that we have a voice and we can make a difference. I think that’s a great note to end on.
So, yeah. Thank you so much for the discussion, Bang Ade, and thank you so much, Fadiyah, for speaking to us today.
And that wraps up our discussion with Fadiyah Alaidrus and Ade Wahyudin. I can’t reiterate Fadiyah’s point enough: As an individual, we are vulnerable, but as a collective, we are powerful. And, as Ade mentioned, it is our task as a collective to keep monitoring police processes and demand them to do better. That is how democracy is practised.
If you are in a vulnerable condition right now, though, say, you are a journalist covering sensitive topics or otherwise needing legal help regarding issues of press freedom and freedom of expression, you can contact LBH Pers via their platform lapor.lbhpers.org.
We’ve talked a lot about media freedom in this podcast, and moving forward, we’ll keep you posted with various research findings, discussions, and voices from our Media Freedom Network across Southeast Asia.
Find out more about our initiatives, research, events, and the network, as well as how you can participate, on our website, newnaratif.com/mediafreedom.
My name is Bonnibel Rambatan, and this has been Southeast Asia Dispatches. Brought to you by New Naratif, and produced by Dania Joedo.
I’ll see you around.