Police officers are seen in Bogor, near Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 15, 2020. Journalist Diantara Putra Sumedi has been held in police custody since early May. (Antara Foto/Arif Firmansyah/via Reuters)

Indonesian journalist held since early May on criminal defamation charge

Bangkok, June 9, 2020 – Indonesian authorities should immediately release journalist Diantara Putra Sumedi and stop legal proceedings against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Police in Kotabaru, South Kalimantan province, have held Diantara in detention since May 4, in response to a criminal defamation complaint filed against him, according to news reports.

The complaint was filed by a person identified as Sukirman, who claims to be a representative of the Dayak ethnic group, who alleged that Diantara, a blogger and former editor-in-chief of the Banjar Hits news website, misquoted him in a November 2019 article, according to those reports.

Authorities charged Diantara under Article 28 of Indonesia’s Electronic Information and Transactions Law, a provision that criminalizes disseminating information that incites hatred; if convicted, he faces up to six years in prison and a fine of one billion rupiah ($71,300), reports said.

South Kalimantan’s Kotabaru Court started hearings in the case yesterday, over a month after the journalist was first detained, local reports said.

“Journalist Diantara Putra Sumedi should be released immediately and all criminal charges pending against him should be dropped,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Defamation complaints should always be handled through civil, not criminal, means. Indonesia should stop jailing journalists.”

Diantara is currently being held at Kotabaru Police Station’s detention facility, according to Abdul Manan, chair of the Alliance of Independent Journalists of Indonesia, who communicated with CPJ by email. The next hearing in Diantara’s trial is scheduled for June 15, Manan said.

Sukirman’s complaint against Banjar Hits and Kumparan, the Indonesian blogging platform that hosted Banjar Hits, stated that he was misquoted in a story written and published by Diantara about a land dispute between the indigenous Dayak community and a palm oil company, and said the misquotation was defamatory and could cause ethnic tensions, MongaBay reported.

Sukirman said that he believed the land dispute could be settled amicably or through the courts, but was misquoted as saying that the dispute could trigger ethnic tensions between the Dayak and Bugis communities, according to that report.

A separate dispute over the story, filed by the Jhonlin Group palm oil company, was handled by Indonesia’s Press Council, an independent body that adjudicates media disputes, which in February issued a ruling that Diantara should publish the group’s right of reply to the story.

Following that ruling, Kumparan apologized to the Jhonlin Group and severed its publishing relationship with Banjar Hits, reports said.

CPJ’s emailed request to Kumparan and the Jhonlin Group for comment did not immediately receive a reply. CPJ could not determine contact information for Sukirman.