Sabrina Asril, Jakarta – The practice of obstructing press freedom has happened again. This time it befell Kompas.com reporter Nirmala Maulana whose mobile phone was seized by a rogue TNI (Indonesian military) officer when he was covering TNI personnel taking down an Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) billboard depicting the face of the group's leader Habib Rizieq Shihab.
The incident occurred on the afternoon of Friday November 20 at around 11.20 am at the Jalan KS Taban intersection in the direction of Tanah Abang in Central Jakarta.
"I had intended to interview local people who witness the removal of Habib Rizieq posters in Tanah Abang. But, before reaching Tanah Abang, [I came across] posters being removed on the Jalan Slipi I and Jalan KS Tuban intersection", said Maulana.
Maulana decided to stop and take photographs using his cell phone. After he had finished, Maulana headed back to his motorcycle. "But before I reached my motorcycle, I was intercepted by a TNI officer. I was pinned and fell to the ground. Then another TNI officer arrived", said Maulana.
Two TNI officers then asked him to delete the photos he had just taken. At the time Maulana was unable to move freely because he was pinned and had fallen flat on his face. He was also unable to see the faces of the TNI officers who obstructed him.
"What's clear is they wore TNI uniforms. It was TNI that I saw, also local people. Before I managed to delete the photos, my mobile phone was seized", he said.
As they left one of the TNI officers said, "Take it to Kodam" (the district military command). Some of them departed on motorcycles while others took a pickup truck.
Following the incident, Maulana reported the incident to the Kompas.com editors as soon as he was able to borrow a mobile phone from one of his colleagues.
Kompas.com chief editor Wisnu Nugroho said he regretted the behaviour of the TNI officers as the work of journalists is protected under Law Number 40/1999 on the Press.
Article 18 Paragraph (1) states that anyone who violates the law by intentionally committing an act which results in hindering or obstructing or the stipulations of Article 4 Paragraph (2) and Paragraph (3) shall be subject to a maximum prison sentence of two years and a maximum fine of 500 million rupiah.
"All parties, especially state officials are obliged to understand and comply with this law. Because of this we regret the actions of the state officials which can be categorise as an effort to hinder and obstruct journalistic work", said Nugroho.
Jakarta military command spokesperson Infantry Colonel Refki Efriandana Edwar has apologised over the incident claiming that they are still investigating the TNI officers concerned. "Things like this shouldn't happen to journalists who saw [a billboard] being removed. The TNI commander's directive is clear on this", said Efriandana.
The West Jakarta district military command (Kodim) eventually returned Maulana's mobile phone earlier this afternoon. It is not yet known however if the TNI members who assaulted him will be punished.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Kompas.com Sesalkan Perampasan Ponsel Wartawan oleh Oknum TNI saat Pencopotan Baliho FPI".]