International media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has voiced concerns for an Indonesian newspaper reporter in the western province of Aceh who has had to go into hiding after being threatened and beaten by an army officer over a report about illegal logging.
“It is unacceptable just days after World Environment Day on 5 June that a journalist is being treated like this for writing about deforestation,” the Paris-based group said, identifying the reporter as Ahmadi, who works for the Indonesian local daily Harian Aceh.
“The Indonesian authorities, especially the defense minister, must react by punishing the army officer responsible for these threats,” it added.
In its recent report, “Deforestation and pollution, high-risk subjects,” Reporters Without Borders noted that local and foreign journalists are frequently threatened or bribed in connection with their coverage of illegal logging in Indonesia, a country which leads the world in deforestation.
During a visit to Alapan district on 19 May to do a story on flooding, Ahmadi and another reporter, Aziz of News Investigasi Medan, noticed illegal logging taking place on land belonging to the local police station. When they contacted a local army officer, Lt. Faisal Amin, for a comment, he told them not to write anything about it, the rights group said.
According to the group, Harian Aceh ran a story by Ahmadi on 21 May linking Lt. Amin to the illegal logging. The same day, Ahmadi was “invited” to meet with Lt. Amin on a military base. When he arrived, his mobile phone and laptop were taken from him and, when he tried to recover the phone, Amin let off several shots with his firearm and shouted: “You liar. You have humiliated me three times. I told you not to publish it but you insisted.”
Reporters Without Borders explained that Lt. Amin then beat Ahmadi about the head, face and chest and threatened to kill his family if he did not retract the article’s claims. Ahmadi, the group added, refused and, after four hours of mistreatment, he was released. He filed a complaint at the Simeulue district police station before going to a hospital for treatment to his injuries.
Yuli Maroko, a regional army spokesman, subsequently acknowledged that Ahmadi had been given a beating by a “military officer” but no action was taken against Lt. Amin. Soldiers were sent to protect Ahmadi’s family at their home.
“Ahmadi has been living in hiding, far from his family, since the incident,” the group noted. It quoted him saying: “I want justice to be done. I want my assailant to be tried before a civilian court. I also request protection for my family and myself during and after the trial. Despite the appointment of a new commander in the district of Simeulue and his attempts to reassure me about our safety, I am still worried.”