Air Force officer jailed for assault on journalist

Sentence follows attack at Sumatra jet crash site last year

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta, Indonesia

September 18, 2013

A military court in Medan, Sumatra on Tuesday sentenced an Indonesian air force officer to three months in prison for assaulting a photographer covering a plane crash in Riau province in October last year.

Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Simanjuntak, a former air force press officer, was found guilty of beating, kicking and choking Didik Herwanto as he tried to take photos of a Hawk 200 jet fighter crash after it came down in a residential area in Kampar district. There were no casualties.

The assault was captured on camera and video and posted on Youtube.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of two years and eight months, according to Indonesian law, but Judge Djodi Suranto said that three months in prison combined with sanctions and dismissal from the air force was punishment enough.

Aryo Wisanggeni, an advocacy coordinator for the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), said that Simanjuntak should have faced additional charges under Indonesian law which protects media workers above ordinary citizens.

“It should be both the criminal code and the law … on press,” he said.

Haris Azhar from the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), which documents abuses by the Indonesian military, said that the investigation was rushed and overly secretive.

“There’s a strong impression that the investigation and legal processes were just a show,” he said.

Air force officers reportedly attacked two other journalists at the Riau crash site. They were among 56 assaults against journalists reported in Indonesia from May last year until April 30, according to AJI.