Surabaya – A grouping of civil society organisations calling themselves the “Surabaya Solidarity Society Against Remission for the Murderer of Journalist AA Gde Bagus Narendra Prabangsa” have sent a letter to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
In the letter they called on Widodo to revoke a decision he made giving a sentence remission to I Nyoman Susrama, the mastermind behind the murder of the Radar Bali newspaper journalist.
The letter was signed by representatives from the Surabaya Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the Surabaya Legal Aid Foundation ILBH), the Surabaya University of Airlingga Human Right Law Studies (HRLS), the Surakarta Muhammadiyah University Centre for Religious and Democratic Studies (PUSAD UMS), the Surabaya Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Java Post editorial staff and a number of other civil society groups.
AJI Surabaya chairperson Miftah Faridl said that the involvement of civil society groups in the campaign is a sign that the policy of giving a sentence remission to Susrama is dangerous not just for press freedom but democracy as well.
“Surabaya has become the place for the mobilisation of an alliance of civil society to urge the cancellation of this remission”, said Faridl when presenting a press release at the Kontras office on Jl. Hamzah Fansyuri in Surabaya, East Java, on Monday February 4.
Faridl said that the letter to Widodo was aimed at ensuring that journalism remains a place where the public can obtain accurate information without censorship.
“Because as is known Prabangsa was murdered after writing a report about corrupt practices by Susrama in a project with the Bangli Regency Education Office”, he said.
Faridl stated that giving a sentence remission to Susrama is the same as showing that the government condones impunity for the murders of journalists. According to Faridl, this is the same as hiding corruption from the media and public scrutiny.
Java Post editor-in-chief Abdul Rokhim meanwhile said he was disappointed with the government’s decision to give a sentence remission to Susrama. Not just because Prabangsa was part of the Java Post but also because of the issue of press freedom.
“This shows that the current government is permissive and intimidative towards journalist’s work, and that means not just threatening press freedom, but also threatening the most fundamental rights of freedom of expression and conveying the truth”, said Rokhim.
Rokhim said that the Java Post conveyed its opposition to the remission when Widodo visited the Java Post editorial board at the Graha Pena Indo Post offices in Surabaya on February 2.
“We met face-to-face with Pak [Mr] Jokowi at the Graha Pena and we asked him about it directly, we said that it (the remission) was not right and must be revoked. And Pak Jokowi’s response, it was very possible that it could be done, but two points, namely the need for a sense of justice and the public’s wishes”, he said.
Rokhim said that on the issue of canceling the remission, Widodo of course can see for himself the wave of protests by journalists around the country, the petition signings, as well as this open letter.
“If the Pak President needs [to see] them, this is what we want, we’ll send them, if the president wants to know our wishes, then these are the points we want to make, that the [public’s] sense of justice has been hurt by giving this remission”, said Rokhim.
Prabangsa was sadistically murdered by nine people on February 11, 2009. His hands were bound and his head bashed repeatedly by a length of wood until it was smashed to a pulp.
Prabangsa’s body was then dumped in the sea. His body was only discovered six days later on February 16 in waters near Bai Padang, Karang Asem, Bali. The murder case was not solved until months later.
Airlangga University HRLS chairperson Herlambang P. Wiratman said that solving Prabangsa’s murder was very complicated. At the time, he said, a number of journalist groups even had to form a monitoring team tasked with overseeing the trial. Several former judges and prosecutors also joined the team to help.
Moreover, said Wiratmansaid, Susrama was the younger brother of Bangli Regent I Nengah Arnawa. There was concern that the regent would use his political influence to intervene in the legal process. He is also known as a legislative candidate for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
“It was not an easy endeavor, but the consolidation by fellow journalists was extraordinary, they formed a team to monitor the trail process, but fortunately the journalists were close to civil society groups, so any anomalies [in the trial] could be prevented”, he said. (frd/ayp)
On December 7 last year Widodo signed Presidential Decree Number 29/2018 which commuted Susrama’s sentence from a life sentence to 20 years imprisonment.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Remisi Susrama, Jurnalis dan Aktivis Surabaya Surati Jokowi”.]