Muhammad Yusuf, a reporter with the local news website Kemajuan Rakyat, died on June 10, 2018 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 p.m., the reports said.
According to reports, Yusuf’s wife, Arvaidah, said her husband had suffered from stomach and heart conditions since 2012 and had had a stroke. She called for an autopsy, the reports said.
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.
As of December 11, 2018, the South Kalimantan police station did not respond to CPJ’s request for updates in the case.
Yusuf was detained in April 2018 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.
MongaBay, an environmental news outlet, reported that between November 2017 and March 2018, 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 would have 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 2018, was ongoing at Kotabaru District Court at the time of his death. Reports on Yusuf’s death did not indicate if he had been threatened for his reporting.