CPJ disturbed by acquittal in Indonesian journalist’s death

New York, March 10, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed by a provincial court’s decision in Indonesia to acquit three accused killers of TV journalist Ridwan Salamun. On Wednesday, a panel of judges in the Tual District Court in Maluku declared the three men not guilty of the reduced charge of “persecution” in the mob violence in which Salamun was killed while covering a community clash in Fiditin village.

The attorney general’s office in Jakarta said that it would appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court within 14 days, according to local media reports.

“That the men who, according to many witnesses, hacked Ridwan Salamun to death should be acquitted is frightening,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Indonesia’s reputation as a country with a free press and an unbowed press corps has taken a beating in recent years. We call on the Supreme Court to overturn this verdict on appeal.”

Ridwan, a contributor for Jakarta-based Sun TV, was attacked by men with machetes on August 21, 2010, according to The Associated Press. He was covering mob violence between two rival groups in a village on the remote island province. The three men tried for the killing–Hasan Tamange, Ibrahim Raharusun, and Sahar Renuat–were immediately set free on Wednesday. The reduced charge, of which they were found not guilty, would have carried a maximum of eight months in jail.

While Indonesia enjoys a reputation as a country that successfully made the transition from the 31-year rule of former strongman President Suharto, the unprosecuted deaths of journalists has called into question the government’s ability to move beyond the post-authoritarian era, which started with Suharto’s departure in 1998.

CPJ research shows that of the nine journalists killed for their work in the country since 1996, there was a 75 percent rate of impunity, while in 25 percent of the cases there was only partially successful prosecution. Six of those deaths have come in the post-Suharto era.