Medan, Indonesia – Just a few days before he was fatally shot in the thigh, Indonesian journalist Mara Salem Harahap took his wife and two children to Medan, North Sumatra for a family outing, about two hours away. Their home. During the trip, they took a family portrait together, which Marsal shared on social media.
“This is very unusual,” his friend and fellow journalist Rencana Siregar told Al Jazeera. “In the 12 years we were friends, he almost never posted a personal photo. He wanted to protect his family.”
Marsal is the editor-in-chief of Lasser News Today, an online news site in Pematangsiantar, a city with a population of approximately 250,000 in the center of Sumatra. He has every reason to be cautious.
In the past few months, the 46-year-old man wrote an article about a local nightclub in the city, which he claimed was related to organized crime, gambling and drug dealing. In addition to writing articles about nightclubs, Marsal also posted relevant information on his Facebook account.
“He is like my adopted brother,” Luncana said. “Two weeks before his death, he came to see me and we talked about his work on investigating nightclubs. We talked for a long time, about five hours. When he told me that it needed to be investigated, he was very persuasive, and he was a A tough reporter. He doesn’t look scared.”
That was the last time Luncana saw Marsar.
On the night of June 18, Marsar was shot and killed in a car about 300 meters (984 feet) from his home.
Six days later, North Sumatra police chief and inspector general Panca Putra announced the arrest of two suspects-the nightclub owner and an unidentified military officer that Marsar had been investigating.
According to the police chief, Marsar had previously met with the owner of the overnight club and complained that the media reports were unflattering.
Panka said at a press conference last week that the motive of the murder was “to teach the victim a lesson,” but it is unclear whether the officer and nightclub owner intended to kill Marsar or just scare him.
Liston Damanik, head of the Indonesian Union of Independent Journalists (AJI) in Medan, told Al Jazeera: “The murder of Mara Salem Harahap was the fourth targeted attack in North Sumatra in the past month. Violence by journalists.” “Cases like this and atrocities against journalists are increasing, presumably because the police have no legal certainty in these cases.”
Liston added that on May 29, an unidentified assailant tried to burn the home of another reporter who was also located on the Bamatang River. On May 31, a Metro TV reporter’s car was set alight. On June 13, Molotov cocktail was thrown into the home of the third reporter’s parents in Binjie, a suburb of Medan.
Due to inadequate reporting and lack of prosecution, AJI does not have precise data on violence against journalists in North Sumatra, but Liston said the recent series of attacks indicate the danger faced by journalists in the area. These may include physical violence as well as legal issues such as prosecution under Indonesia’s broad electronic information and transaction law (UUITE).
In recent years, this law has been increasingly used against journalists to replace Indonesia’s traditional journalism law. This law provides journalists with a certain degree of professional protection against defamation and defamation cases, and is usually the first to contact Indonesia The Press Committee negotiates and deals with it instead of directly contacting the local police.
“Reporters in North Sumatra not only face the threat of being trapped by the ITE law, but now their houses have been thrown by incendiary bombs, allegedly those who are dissatisfied with their journalistic work,” Liston said.
Freedom under fire
In neighbouring Malaysia, journalists have also found themselves under pressure, including Tashny Sukumaran, a senior analyst at the current think tank Islamic State of Malaysia (ISIS).
As a journalist for 10 years, she has worked in the Malaysian English newspaper “The Star” and the “South China Morning Post” in Hong Kong.
She told Al Jazeera: “Last year I participated in several cases related to my reporting and writing, including a book about the general election that I contributed to the ban.” “On May 1st Labor Day, I reported on one in the center of Kuala Lumpur. Immigration raid in the COVID-19 “red zone” and wrote a story about the raid on Twitter.”
A few days later, Tashni was informed that the police wanted to interrogate her under the Communications and Multimedia Act and Article 504 of the Malaysian Penal Code. Her mobile phone was confiscated and has not yet been returned to her, and she faces about five pages of questions about her reporting literature.Al Jazeera has also survey For a piece about Immigration treatment During the country’s first blockade.
“Since March 2020, under the leadership of the Kuomintang government, fundamental freedoms have been declining,” Nalini Elumalai, a senior Malaysian project officer under Article 19, who advocated reforms to restrict freedom of speech and document violations of freedom of speech in Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.
“The government has severely cracked down on criticism of the state and state entities, weakened the important role of public accountability, and sent a clear message that it will not tolerate dissent. The media is one of the main targets of these attacks.
Nalini added that Malaysian authorities have harassed, investigated, prosecuted, and deprived the right of access to media information. “The government has a particularly tough stance on independent media, and journalists often face legal harassment and threats.”
In 2021, Malaysiakini, an online newspaper in Malaysia, was fined 500,000 Malaysian ringgits (US$120,328) for the following reasons Reader comments Watthshlah G Naidu, executive director of the Independent Press Center (CIJ) of Malaysia, told Al Jazeera that on its website, five reporters were summoned for questioning.
Reporters from other media, including China Daily and Free Malaysia Today, have also been questioned by the police for reporting this year and 2020.
“Last year various repressive and antiquated laws were used against the media and journalists,” Watthshlah said. “These laws include section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia (CMA) Act 1998, the Sedition Act of 1948, section 504 of the Criminal Code, section 505 of the Penal Code, and the Printing Press and Publishing (PPPA) Act of 1984. Other laws include the “Criminal Code” Section 203A and Section 114A of the Evidence Act of 1950. When the government is portrayed as negative, the trend is often to use these laws to target and intimidate the media. “
In March 2020, when the government elected two years ago collapsed, the Prime Minister of the League of Nations, Muhyiddin Yassin, took control of the country.
In January of this year, Muhyiddin declared a “state of emergency”, including the suspension of parliament, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the government used its emergency powers to implement a comprehensive “False news“Laws enacted by the previous government abolition.
“We are very concerned about the state of media freedom in Malaysia and the related trends of authorities restricting access, harassing and intimidating the media,” Watthshlah said, noting Malaysia’s ranking in the annual Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranking. Press Freedom Index It dropped by 18 places to 119 (ranked out of 180 countries). Last year, it set the best ranking ever at 101.
In the same index, Indonesia is slightly higher than Malaysia, ranking 113th, although the report also pointed out that “many reporters stated that due to anti-blasphemy laws and’Informasi dan Transaksi Elektronik’ (Electronic and Information Transaction Law).
“In 2020, the government used the Covid-19 crisis to strengthen its repressive weapons against journalists. These journalists are now not only prohibited from publishing’false information’ related to the coronavirus, but also prohibited from publishing any information’hostile to the President or the government. ‘, The report continues.
Rencana said the authorities need to provide more support to journalists so that they can work fearlessly.
He said: “We need the police to help us, especially during the pandemic, our job is more difficult than usual.” “When we have to deal with all these problems at the same time, how can we be professional and work hard Worried about being shot or arrested while doing a good job?”
“This is a kind of democracy, but in this case, how can democracy work?”