Fika Nurul Ulya, Jakarta – The Alliance of Independent Journalist (AJI) has condemned the verbal intimidation against a journalist covering the 43rd ASEAN Summit (KTT ASEAN) which was held in Jakarta on September 5-7.
This was in response to intimidation and threats by security personnel against Indonesian American journalist Patsy Widakuswara when she was covering a bilateral meeting between US Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.
"[We] condemn the acts of intimidation and the obstruction of journalistic work in the form of the threat not to allow access to cover the KTT ASEAN agenda", said AJI Jakarta advocacy and labour division head Irsyan Hasyim in a press release on Friday September 8.
AJI said that Indonesia is a democratic country that guarantees press freedom as mandated under Article 28f of the 1945 Constitution and Law Number 40/1999 on the Press.
Article 2 of the Press Law states, "Press freedom is one of the forms of the ordinary people's sovereignty that is based on the principles of democracy, justice and supremacy of the law".
The obstruction of journalistic work very clearly conflicts the spirit of democracy and press freedom.
Second, the actions of security personnel and Indonesian officials in evicting and allegedly verbally intimidating Widakuswara are actions that will damage Indonesia's image as a democracy, especially in relation to the protection and provision of safe space for journalists in carrying out their work.
Moreover, these actions can be considered to be a violations of Article 18 Paragraph (1) of the Press Law, which states, "Anyone who violates the law by intentionally committing acts that result in hindering or obstructing the implementation of the stipulations under Article 4 Paragraphs (2) and (3) shall be subject to a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a maximum fine of 500 million rupiah".
Therefore, in addition to condemning these actions, the AJI is urging all parties to respect and provide legal protection to journalists who are carrying out their professional duties based on the law.
"Journalists have rights and receive legal protection when carrying out their functions, rights, obligations and roles as guaranteed by Article 8 of the Press Law. This legal protection is provided by the government and the public", he said.
In addition to this, AJI is urging all parties, including the Indonesian government, to stop and abandon the practice of obstructing and limiting journalists' questions which ends up hampering the public's right to obtain information.
Forcibly removed from meeting
The incident occurred when Kamala Harris was holding a meeting with president Widodo during the Jakarta summit.
During the meeting, Widakuswara asked two questions that were directed at Harris and Widodo respectively. She asked Harris about whether or not the US was about to reach a deal over nickel with Indonesia.
Meanwhile she asked Widodo in Indonesian about whether or not he was disappointed that US President Joe Biden did not attend the ASEAN Summit.
Several people who were in the meeting room then forcibly escorted Widakuswara outside while officials from the US Vice-Presidential office tried to negotiate with Indonesian authorities.
Widakuswara is an American Indonesian journalist and Voice of America's (VOA) White House bureau chief. She attended the event as part of the US print and radio media press pool covering the ASEAN Summit.
“The situation was tense, but I didn't feel anxious or panicked or anything like that, because I knew I was just doing my job. And I also know that the US Vice President's office would back me. So I just stood my ground", said Widakuswara.
After being escorted out of the meeting room, Widakuswara was surrounded by a number of security personnel who ordered her to leave the summit because she was alleged to have shouted when she presented the questions to Harris and Widodo earlier.
The security personnel also prohibited here from following other events during the Summit. Widakuswara posted a video on platform X of the obstruction of her journalistic duties.
"There are moments where shouting is just not appropriate. This was not one of them", she said.
According to Widakuswara, one of the officials who spoke in Indonesian even went so far as to say, "Until Armageddon comes, I will not allow her in".
The threat however was not realised after US officials came to Widakuswara's defense. The US officials continued to pressure Indonesian officials to allow her in saying that Harris would not enter the Summit meeting room until all of the journalists, including Widakuswara, were allowed to enter.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "AJI Kecam Intimidasi terhadap Wartawan AS dalam KTT Ke-43 ASEAN di Jakarta".]