A motorcyclist rides down an alley in Jakarta in June. An Indonesian journalist died while in custody in South Kalimantan. (AFP/Adek Berry)

CPJ calls on Indonesia to investigate death of detained journalist

June 26, 2018 2:07 PM ET

New York, June 26, 2018--Indonesian authorities must conduct a thorough investigation into the death of journalist Muhammad Yusuf and consider the possibility that he was killed in retribution for his reporting, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yusuf, a reporter with the local news website Kemajuan Rakyat, died on June 10 after becoming ill while detained in South Kalimantan while on trial for defamation and hate speech charges related to his reporting on a land dispute, according to news reports.

He complained to prison authorities at the Kotabaru detention center of breathing difficulties, chest pains and vomiting, and was taken to a local hospital, where he died at 2:30 pm, the reports said. His family said Yusuf did not suffer from any chronic illnesses prior to his detention and called for an autopsy.

South Kalimantan Police chief Brigadier General Rachmat Mulyana said the police would conduct an autopsy after June 29 to give Yusuf's family time to mourn, reports said. He said Yusuf's body showed no signs of violence during a medical check-up before his death, the reports said.

Yusuf was detained in April on defamation and hate speech charges related to his reporting on a land conflict between local farmers and the local PT Multi Sarana Agro Mandiri palm oil company over a plantation on Pulau Laut, a small island off the coast of South Kalimantan province, according to news reports. The company is owned by prominent Indonesian businessman Andi Syamsudin Arsyad, also known as Haji Isam.

"We call on Indonesian authorities to launch a transparent and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Muhammad Yusuf's death while in state custody," said CPJ Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin. "Yusuf should never have been imprisoned for his work in the first place. Authorities should leave no stone unturned in weighing the possibility of foul play in the journalist's sudden death."

MongaBay, an environmental news outlet, reported that between November 2017 and March, Yusuf wrote at least 23 articles on the land dispute in Kemajuan Rakyat and Berantas News, another local language news publication. Reports said Yusuf was held for over five weeks in police detention before being transferred to the custody of the Kotabaru district attorney's office in early May.

If convicted, he faced up to six years in prison and one billion rupiah (US$72,000) fine under the 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions Law, reports said. Yusuf's trial, which commenced in mid-May, was ongoing at Kotabaru District Court at the time of his death.

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