Suspicion surrounds Indonesian reporter’s death

New York, July 27, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists joins with our colleagues in Indonesia in calling for a swift, thorough investigation into the death of Muhammad Syaifullah, the Borneo bureau chief for Kompas, Indonesia’s largest daily newspaper.

Syaifullah, 43, a well-known journalist who reported on controversial environmental issues, was found dead on Monday at a rented house in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan Province, on Borneo, according to widespread accounts in Indonesian media. He had made his reputation by reporting on illegal logging and environmental destruction in the region. His most recent report focused on the effects of coal mine. His critical reporting made him many enemies over the years, and local journalists are casting doubt on a recently released autopsy report that showed he died from a brain hemorrhage caused by diabetes and hypertension.

“There must be a full, swift, and independent investigation by legal authorities into the Muhammad Syaifullah’s death,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Syaifullah’s reporting on controversial environmental issues angered many powerful people.”

Media reports and the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists cast doubt on the cause of Syaifullah’s death. He was found by friends in the living room after his family was unable to reach him for several days. Because of his high-profile reporting, the alliance is calling for a full coroner’s investigation into the cause of death beyond the autopsy performed by hospital doctors.

The Indonesian National Human Rights Commission has also called on authorities to move quickly to investigate.