At least 56 journalists experienced violence or intimidation, allegedly perpetrated by members of the police, during nationwide protests against the Job Creation Law, according to the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).
Data from the AJI’s advocacy division shows that significant portions of the violence against journalists took place in Malang, Central Java (15 reported cases), Jakarta (eight), and Surabaya (six) between Oct. 7 and 21 – the approximately two weeks after the jobs law was passed by the House of Representatives on Oct. 5.
Most of the abuse inflicted on journalists was in the form of intimidation (23 cases), confiscation or destruction of data or news-gathering tools (13 cases) and physical violence (11 cases).
“Ironically, the perpetrators of the violence against the press are the police – an institution that is supposed to be enforcing the law,” the alliance said in a written statement issued on Monday, adding that the abuse of journalists was a crime according to Article 18 of Law No. 40/1999 on the press.
In response to the violence, the AJI called on National Police chief Gen. Idham Azis to take legal action against police personnel accused of brutalizing members of the press.
The alliance also urged the police to reassess the cadet training program, particularly with regard to the handling of protests and rallies, to ensure that the public and the press were afforded safe spaces.
Activists have previously raised concerns about the police’s purported use of excessive force against protesters and journalists during the jobs law protests.
The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) received some 1,500 complaints about alleged violence by security forces during the three-day wave of demonstrations from Oct. 6 to 8.
The National Police have denied allegations that their officers used repressive approaches to enforce security measures during the jobs law protests.
“In relation to the security during protests, please don’t twist [the facts to contend] that the police are repressive. We are not. We are also human,” National Police spokesman Brig. Gbe. Awi Setiyono said on Monday, as reported by kompas.com.
He said the force understood human rights and the psychology of large groups, adding that police officers had followed Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) strictly while maintaining security during rallies. Officers, Awi maintained, took action based on the situation on the field.
“If the crowds start to use violence, police personnel will certainly take measured action, from bare hands to using [police] clubs, from shields to spraying water cannons and tear gas,” Awi said.
The police’s responses, he said, aimed to disperse crowds and maintain public order. He said the force would firmly sanction officers who committed violations while enforcing security.