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Home » , , , , » Activists Press for Justice In Attacks on Journalists

Activists Press for Justice In Attacks on Journalists

Written By Voice Of Baptist Papua on September 2, 2011 | 6:03 PM

Chrestella Tan & Banjir Ambarita
It has been just over a year since Ridwan Salamun, a cameraman for Sun TV, was hacked to death while covering an intervillage clash in Tual district, Maluku, on Aug. 21, 2010.

Since then, the three men charged with his murder have been acquitted after a court ruled that they had acted in self-defense. His widow, Saodah, has mounted an appeal with the Supreme Court.

On Dec. 17 last year, the badly bruised body of Alfrets Mirulewan, editor of the Maluku newspaper Pelangi Weekly, was found on a beach on Kisar Island. After initially writing off his death as an accident, police later charged four men with his murder. A ruling in their trial is expected in the coming weeks.

Both cases gripped the nation’s attention as they highlighted the threats that journalists continue to face — and the apparent impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of violence against reporters. However, the cases now seem to have faded from the national conscience.

For a handful of activists, though, the need for justice remains no less urgent.

Bekti Nugroho, a member of the Press Council, says his organization has sent a letter to the Supreme Court lobbying it to ensure justice in Ridwan’s case.

“We expect the letter to give the court a new perspective and serve as a reminder about the importance of press freedom,” he told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday. “Every verdict sends out a message. When the lower court freed the three defendants, it gave the impression that violence against reporters, for whatever cause, was justified.”

Bekti, who accompanied Saodah in filing the appeal in March, said that ensuring that Ridwan’s killers would face justice was important not just for press freedom, but also for the country’s international standing.

“I hope after reading the letter, the judges will have the conscience to make the right decision,” he said. “This is not a matter of winning or losing — it’s a matter of right and wrong.”

Supporters of Alfrets, who had been looking into the illegal gasoline trade in the Maluku archipelago at the time of his death, say the prosecutors’ handling of the murder trial has been less than convincing.

Yeremias Mahuri, a journalist for the local tabloid Teropong Barat Daya, said many of the witnesses listed in the police dossier had never been called by prosecutors to testify, while those who had been presented were not named in the dossier.

He also said the prosecutors had not made any kind of case for why the defendants would want Alfrets dead.

“Now I’m the only reporter left on Kisar Island,” Yeremias told the Globe.

“I really hope that those in Jakarta who understand about the law and care about press freedom take action to ensure justice in this case,” he added.

Alfrets’ widow, Linda Sarak, held a press conference in Jakarta recently with the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to urge greater public scrutiny of the trial.

Nur Kholis, the Komnas HAM deputy chairman, says that investigations into cases of violence against journalists tend to be plagued by irregularities.

“It’s clear that these cases get scant attention,” he told the Globe. “We often receive reports that an investigation has stalled because of technicalities or as a result of social or political pressure.”

In the case of Banjir Ambarita, a contributor to the Globe who survived after being stabbed in March, the police in Papua have still not made any arrests. Banjir was attacked just days after filing a series of stories on the sexual abuse of female detainees by police.

Insp. Gen. B.L. Tobing, the Papua Police chief, said composite sketches of the assailants had been circulated, but police were still no closer to arresting anyone.

“But since I’ve been police chief, Banjir’s case has been one of those that I have been [most] committed to resolving,” he said. “I owe it to him to finish it.”

But Viktor Mambor, head of the provincial chapter of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), says local police officers are not taking the case seriously enough. “It’s been six months and they haven’t got anything,” he said. “If they can’t handle this case, they should give it to the provincial police.”
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