Presidential challenger Prabowo Subianto shows off his ink-dyed finger after casting his vote in Indonesia's general election at a polling station in Bogor, April 17, 2019.
Presidential challenger Prabowo Subianto shows off his ink-dyed finger after casting his vote in Indonesia's general election at a polling station..

JAKARTA - A former officer in Indonesia's special forces has filed a complaint with the country's press council and police against prominent news magazine Tempo. In his filing Tuesday, Former Major General Chairawan Kadarsyah Nusyirwan said the magazine reported the involvement of former members of the Tim Mawar or the Rose Team, in riots last month. 

Chairawan's lawyer, Herdiansyah, said the former soldier "feels harmed personally because he was a part of the (Rose Team)”, according to the news site Kompas.

The Rose Team is notorious for its involvement in several kidnappings of activists in 1997 and 1998, during the era of the so-called New Order under authoritarian President Suharto.  Several of the unit's members, including Prabowo Subianto, who lost this year's presidential election to incumbent President Joko Widodo, were subsequently fired.

One of those named in Tempo's report on last month's riots is Fauka Noor Farid, one of Prabowo's underlings in the special forces.  The magazine reported Fauka had said it would be beneficial if there were to be a confrontation between protesters and officers.  The May 21 and 22 riots began as a peaceful protest against irregularities in this year's elections, but devolved into violence that left eight dead and more than 700 injured.

The magazine also reported cases of arms dealing and assassination attempts against several current Indonesia ministers.

Arif Zulkifli, Tempo magazine's editor-in-chief, told VOA his team's reports are "airtight, journalistically."   He said, "We've had police reports on us relatively often.  It's fine as long as the Press Council decides that we did nothing wrong."  

This is not the first time Tempo has been attacked for its work. 

In 2010, the 48-year-old magazine uncovered graft allegations of some high-ranking police officers that led unidentified people to fire bomb Tempo's office in Jakarta.

Tempo was temporarily disbanded in June 1994, along with two other publications, and its circulation was halted for four years after it published an investigation on Indonesia's dubious purchase of war ships. 

Indonesia's press freedom

Tempo's history is emblematic of Indonesia's struggle for press freedom, granted finally in 1999 with the enactment of the Press Law.  

During the authoritarian New Order era, stretching from 1966 to 1998, press freedom was virtually non-existent.  It was not until 1998 that the special government-issued press license regulation was jettisoned by Suharto's replacement, President B.J. Habibie.

Though democracy restored press freedom, questions about uninhibited freedom linger.  

"In the past couple of years that we've seen demonstrations in Jakarta, there were cases of violence against journalists. This was never resolved by the state apparatus," said Wisnu Prasetya Utomo, a researcher at the Digital Media and Communication Research Center (Decode) of the University of Gadjah Mada, "This is what makes our press freedom so fragile." 

According to a report by the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists, there were 64 cases of violence directed at journalists in 2018.  The Reporters Without Borders' annual World Press Freedom Index puts Indonesia at 124 out of 180 countries listed.

The country also maintains restrictive access for foreign reporters on the easternmost island of Papua, a hotbed for military violence and struggles for independence.  Indonesia also enforces the electronic information and transactions law, the closest legal standing it  has to an online defamation law.

Today's print journalism in Indonesia is dogged by tighter competition with online media that led to the closure of more than 20 print publications from 2015 to 2017.  But intimidation and litigation against news outlets has persisted since the New Order era, as shown by the case of Tuesday's police report.

"Because the cycle of impunity continues, this will keep happening," said Wisnu.

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