Wed, 19 Mar 2003

`Fight against thuggery is for press freedom and legal certainty'

Suherdjoko and Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan/Semarang

Hundreds of journalists staged a demonstration in Semarang, the capital of Central Java, and Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, to condemn intimidation toward the media, saying thuggery in all forms must be halted to ensure legal certainty and press freedom.

More than 100 journalists from the print and the electronic media as well as activists staged a peaceful rally along the main streets of Semarang to call on the nation, especially security personnel and law enforcers, to stage an all-out battle against thuggery.

Brandishing banners condemning thuggery, the protesters from the local print media, radio and TV stations laid down their work tools such as cameras, radios, tape recorders and press cards on the street to symbolize their opposition to thuggery.

The protesters also distributed circulars containing Article 18 of the 1999 law on the media threatening violators with a maximum two-year jail sentence or a fine of Rp 500 million.

Hundreds of journalists also held a similar demonstration in Medan, declaring war against thuggery. They held a 30-meter banner reading Perang total terhadap premanisme (All-out war against thuggery).

Harsono, coordinator of the demonstration, said thuggery must be eradicated because it was the main enemy of the democracy the nation was trying to develop in the reform era.

"Thuggery, which has affected not only the media but also other parts of civil society, including the judiciary, the bureaucracy and other state institutions, must be fought.

"Democracy here will remain stagnant, the law will be in the hands of hoodlums, security personnel will never become professional and law enforcers will lose their dignity unless thuggery is eradicated immediately," said Harsono.

The demonstrations were held to support nationwide condemnation of the recent attack on the Tempo weekly magazine offices in Jakarta, which many say was not only an insult to press freedom but also to democracy. The attack occurred under the noses of police personnel by hundreds of youths believed to be acting under the orders of Artha Graha Group owner Tomy Winata.

The attack was in reaction to an article by Tempo in its March 3 issue on the recent fire at Tanah Abang textile market. The article implied that Tomy could profit from the fire. Tomy is widely thought to be close to Army officers, and has been accused of involvement in gambling activities in the country.

Harsono said there had been eight cases of violence against journalists over the last three years, but none of the cases had been resolved in court.

Reinhard Simarmata, a protester in Medan, said journalists were committed to fighting against thuggery, since several local media offices had been attacked several times in the last few years.

Hanifah Harahap, coordinator of the demonstration, said they would deliver the banner to the Tempo offices in Jakarta in an expression of solidarity.