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Indonesian police face backlash for attacking journalists

Media groups claim 30 journalists were targeted by police during violent protests against controversial job law

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Indonesian police face backlash for attacking journalists

Police prepare to shoot tear gas during clashes with activists in Jakarta on Oct. 8, the last day of a three-day nationwide strike against a controversial new law which critics fear will favor investors at the expense of labor rights and the environment. (Photo: Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

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Media groups and activists have condemned what they claimed were abuses committed by police against nearly 30 journalists covering nationwide protests last week in Indonesia against a controversial anti-jobs creation law

The new law, which opponents say favors businessmen and will harm ordinary workers and the environment, triggered violent protests by workers, students, and other groups across the country after it was passed on Oct. 5.

Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) reported at least 28 journalists were subjected to violence, acts of intimidation or arrest in protests on Oct. 8 in several cities across the country, including the capital Jakarta.

Six were detained, six were assaulted, nine had their equipment seized or destroyed, while seven others were threatened, the alliance said.

AJI general secretary Revolusi Riza called on national police chief Gen. Idham Azis to make sure no charges are brought against any of the journalists and that those who lost equipment be properly compensated or have it returned.

He said although those arrested were only detained for 24 hours at police headquarters in Jakarta, they should never have been arrested in the first place.

“What I ask the national police chief is what is he going to do to resolve this matter,” Riza told UCA News.

He also called on the media to unite in opposition against intimidation. “We call on journalists facing such intimidation and violence from security forces to be brave and report such abuses,” he said.

Indonesian Journalist Association chairman Atal Sembiring Depari said that “journalists like any other citizens are protected by law which should be respected, especially by police."

He said media workers work within a code of ethics. “Those who intimidate or physically assault journalists must face legal consequences,” he said.

The executive director of the Press Legal Aid Institution, Ade Wahyudin, said two of the six journalists detained by police suffered injuries.

"We are ready to represent them if they want to file a lawsuit,” Wahyudin told UCA News.

National police spokesperson Insp. Gen. Argo Yuwono said what happened to the journalists was a result of the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the situation at each protest. 

“We know we’re supposed to protect journalists. However, when situations turn chaotic, police officers have to protect themselves,” he said, adding it would have been wise if journalists had clearly identified themselves to police officers before covering the protests.

He said the alleged incidents would be investigated.

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