The acquittal of three suspects in the death of a journalist in Maluku is “shocking” and ignored eyewitness testimony, according to activists.
A panel of judges at the Tual District Court in Maluku on Wednesday said the trio was not guilty
of collective violence that resulted in the death of Ridwan Salamun during a community clash in Fiditin village.
Prosecutors demanded that the court sentence the defendants to eight months in jail for their role in Ridwan’s death.
Kabul Supriyadhi of the National Commission of Human Rights ( Komnas HAM ) said that lackluster prosecution of the case most likely resulted from poor investigation from police officers who disregarded reports from eyewitness.
The police claimed that Ridwan, a contributor for Jakarta-based Sun TV, was killed after he attacked the defendants with a machete during the violence.
“[Ridwan] was not involved in the clash as a journalist but as a resident of one of the clashing neighborhoods,” according to a police report.
Kabul said the commission studied the incident and discovered three witnesses who could counter the defendants’ claims that Ridwan was a participant in the mayhem.
“Three witnesses saw Ridwan was on the scene only to do his duty as journalist covering the incident.
Unlike the claim made by the defendants, Ridwan did not bring with him a machete,” Kabul said on Wednesday.
“They saw him carrying only a handycam [video recorder] with the power switched on.”
Ridwan suffered fatal injuries from a spear wound and a cut to his head on the scene. His body was taken by aircraft to Ambon where Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Totoy Herawan Indra confirmed the journalist’s death.
Kabul said the acquittal was dubious. “They have to process any facts on the scene.”
The commission would study whether or not the court and the police had considered its findings, including statements it obtained from the three witnesses, Kabul said.
Members of Ridwan’s family in the courtroom reportedly accepted the acquittal without complaint, while the suspects and their families expressed relief.
The Attorney General’s Office said that it would appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court within 14 days.
Nezar Patria, chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists ( AJI ), said that the acquittal was shocking.
“It might set a bad precedent and give further impetus to commit violence against journalists,” Nezar said.
“The police and the court have ignored testimony from three witnesses who said that Ridwan was there only to cover the clash as journalist,” Nezar said, adding that the AJI would study the verdict.
“We will ask the police to review the investigation,” he added.
According to Imparsial, the Indonesian human rights watchdog, there were 18 cases of violence directed against journalists throughout Indonesia in 2010.
Ridwan was murdered almost a month after the body of Merauke TV journalist Ardiansyah Matrais was found floating in the Maro River in Merauke, Papua.
Jubi magazine published several stories by Matrais before his death alleging illegal logging practices in Papua. Matrais reportedly received several threatening SMS text messages after the articles were published.
An autopsy indicated that Matrais was murdered and his body dumped in the river, according to the National Police.
Other journalists in Papua have reported that they have received threatening text messages and letters written in blood.
— JP/Ina Parlina