Wed, 12 Mar 2003

Police chief orders probe into `Tempo' attack

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

National Police Chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar has ordered an investigation into the recent mob attack on the offices of Tempo magazine, which was sparked by an article on businessman Tomy Winata.

"The police have begun to enforce the law (regarding the attack)," Da'i said after a meeting with dozens of public figures who demanded tough measures against those involved in the attack.

Da'i said the police were currently questioning Tempo chief editor Bambang Harymurti and one of the magazine's editors, Ahmad Taufik, as victim witnesses of the attack, which took place on Saturday.

The police previously said they would only investigate the case should Tempo file a complaint.

But the weekly believes that it does not need to file a report since a number of police officers witnessed how the crowd, claiming to be employees and sympathizers of Tomy, used force to occupy the Tempo offices on Jl. Proklamasi in Central Jakarta and beat Bambang and Taufik at the Central Jakarta Police station.

Public figures appearing at the National Police Headquarters in a show of support for the magazine's staff included Ahmad Syafii Maarif, the chairman of the country's second largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, senior journalists Goenawan Mohamad and Fikri Jufri, lawyers Todung Mulya Lubis and Luhut M Pangaribuan, legislator Dwi Ria Latifa, rights activist Hendardi, former finance minister Mar'ie Muhammad, Muslim scholar Komaruddin Hidayat and economists Faisal Basri and Lin Che Wei.

Another rally to protest violence against the media took place in Denpasar, the capital of Bali. A group of 70 journalists and non-governmental organization (NGO) activists gathered at the provincial legislature to condemn the attack on Tempo, which they said went against the government's decision to declare 2003 as a year free of violence.

Todung said during the meeting with Da'i that the attack on the weekly had raised concerns of "hoodlumism" against the media.

"Tempo might have made a mistake in its report. But violence is not the answer," Todung told reporters. He said the public figures warned that these incidents would undermine press freedom in the country.

Instead of attacking the press, there are other choices people can pursue to correct inaccurate reporting, Todung said.

"People could choose from exercising their right to respond to the article, settling out of court, suing the media or even boycotting it," he said.

He was referring to a settlement of a dispute involving the Indonesian Military (TNI) and The Washington Post newspaper over a report of the military's alleged involvement in an attack on Freeport employees last year. The U.S. daily clarified the report, admitting to having no solid evidence to back up its story.

Separately, Tomy and lawyer Desmond J. Mahesa filed a report with the Jakarta Police alleging defamation against him by Tempo. Tomy, the owner of the Artha Graha group, had sent a legal warning to the weekly over its report a day before some 200 people attacked the magazine's offices.

The attackers demanded that Tempo retract an article in its March 3 edition, which quoted a source as saying that Tomy had proposed a Rp 53 billion (US$5.9 million) renovation of the Tanah Abang textile market before it was gutted by fire last month. The magazine called Tomy "a scavenger" for taking advantage of the fire.

The protesters later forced Taufik to reveal the name of the source, but the editor refused.

No one has been arrested over the attack.

According to Press Law No. 40/1999, people who commit a crime against press freedom face a maximum jail sentence of two years and a fine of up to Rp 500 million.

Tempo has said it would face Tomy's charges in court.