Medan, Indonesia – Just a few days before he was fatally shot in the thigh, Indonesian journalist Mara Salem Harahap, known as Marsal, took his wife and two children on a family outing in the Sumatra town of Medan. the North, about two hours away from his home. During the trip, they took a family photo together and Marsal shared the photo on social media.
“It was very unusual,” his friend and fellow journalist, Rencana Siregar, told Al Jazeera. “In the 12 years we’ve been friends, he hasn’t even posted any personal photos. He wanted to protect his family. “
Marsal, the editor-in-chief of Lasser News Today, an online news site based in Pematangsiantar, a city of about a quarter of a million people in the heart of Sumatra, had every reason to be cautious.
During the previous months, the 46-year-old had written about a local nightclub in the city that allegedly was linked to organized crime, gambling and drug trafficking. In addition to writing about the disco, Marsal had also posted it on his Facebook account.
“He was like my adopted brother,” Rencana said. “Two weeks before his death, he came to see us and we talked about his work investigating the disco. We talked for a long time, maybe five hours. He was very persuasive when he told me he needed to be investigated and he was a tough journalist. I didn’t look scared. “
It was the last time Rencana saw Marsal.
On the evening of June 18, Marsal was killed and killed in his car about 300 meters (984 feet) from his home.
Six days later, the head of North Sumatra police, Inspector General Panca Putra, announced that two suspects had been arrested – the owner of the nightclub Marsal had investigated and an unidentified army officer.
According to the police chief, Marsal had met the owner of the nightclub earlier, who had complained about the unpleasant media coverage.
The motive for the murder was to “teach the victim a lesson,” Panca said at a news conference last week, although it is unclear whether the army officer and the owner of the nightclub they planned to kill Marsal or simply scare him.
“The assassination of Mara Salem Harahap is the fourth case of violence against journalists that occurred in North Sumatra last month,” Liston Damanik, head of the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) in Medan , he told Al Jazeera. “Cases like this and atrocities against journalists are growing, presumably because there is no legal certainty from the police as to these cases.”
Liston added that, on May 29, unidentified assailants tried to break into the home of another journalist also based in Pematangsiantar, and that, on May 31, the car of a Metro TV journalist was turned on. On June 13, Molotov cocktails were thrown at the home of the parents of a third journalist in the town of Binjai on the outskirts of Medan.
While AJI did not have firm data on acts of violence against journalists in North Sumatra due to lack of statement and lack of prosecution, Liston said the recent series of attacks show the dangers faced by journalists in North Sumatra. the region. These may include physical violence, as well as legal issues, such as prosecution under the Electronic Informatics and Transactions Act (UUITE).
The law has been increasingly used against journalists in recent years to replace Indonesia’s traditional press law, which gives journalists a level of professional protection against cases of defamation and defamation. and that it is generally dealt with in consultation with the Indonesian Press Council in the first instance, rather than with the local police authority directly.
“Journalists in North Sumatra are not only threatened with being trapped by the ITE Act, but now their homes are cluttered with Molotov cocktails, allegedly by people who are unhappy with their journalistic work,” Liston said. .
Freedom under fire
In neighboring Malaysia, journalists have also come under pressure, including Tashny Sukumaran, now a senior analyst at the ISIS Malaysia think-tank.
A journalist for 10 years, he previously worked for the Malaysian newspaper The Star and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.
“I was involved in several cases last year in connection with my reporting and my writing, including a book on the general election that I contributed to being banned,” he told Al Jazeera. “On May 1, I reported on an immigration raid on a ‘red zone’ COVID-19 in the heart of Kuala Lumpur and they both tweeted and wrote a story about the raid.”
A few days later, Tashny was told that the police wanted to interrogate her under the Law on Communications and Multimedia and Section 504 of the Malaysian Penal Code. His phone was taken away and not even returned to him, and he had about five pages of questions about his report. Al Jazeera was too investigated for a documentary on the treatment of migrants during the first closure of the village.
“Fundamental freedoms have been in decline under the government of Perikatan Nasional since March 2020,” Nalini Elumalai, Malaysian program director under ARTICLE 19, which supports the reform of laws restricting freedom of expression and documents violations of freedom of expression in Malaysia, Al Jazeera said.
“The government has taken up criticism of the state and state entities, undermining the important role of public responsibility, and sending a clear message that dissent will not be tolerated. The media is one of the main targets of these attacks. ”
Nalini added that the authorities in Malaysia have persecuted, investigated, prosecuted and denied the right to access media information and that, “the government’s position towards independent media has been particularly aggressive, with journalists who regularly face persecution and legal threats ”.
In 2021, the Malaysian online newspaper Malaysiakini was fined 500,000 Malaysian ringgits ($ 120,328) for reader comments Wathshlah G Naidu, executive director of the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in Malaysia, told Al Jazeera on its website, and five of its journalists were summoned to be questioned.
Other media outlets including China Press and Free Malaysia Today have also had reporters questioned by police about their reports, both this year and in 2020.
“Several repressive and archaic laws were enacted against the media and journalists last year,” Wathshlah said. “These laws include Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, the Sedition Act 1948, Section 504 of the Penal Code, Section 505 of the Penal Code and the Printing and Publications Act (PPPA). 1984. Other laws include Section 203A of the Penal Code and Section 114A of the Prudence Act of 1950. The tendency is often to target and intimidate the media by enforcing these laws when the government is portrayed in a negative light. ”
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan National administration took control of the country in March 2020 amid the collapse of the government elected two years earlier.
In January this year, Muhyddin declared an “Emergency” including the suspension of Parliament, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the government used its emergency powers to impose a sweep. “False night”Law, which the previous government had abulita.
“We are quite concerned about the status of media freedom in Malaysia and the related trend of limiting access, harassment and intimidation against the media by the authorities,” he said. Wathshlah, noting Malaysia’s ranking in the annual Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report press freedom index had dropped 18 places to 119 (out of 180 classified countries). The previous year, he had recorded his best ranking in 101.
In the same index, Indonesia was slightly above Malaysia in 113th place, although the report also said that, “Many journalists say they are censored because of the threat of an anti-blasphemy law and the Law on à “Informasi dan Transaksi Elektronik” (Electronics and Legal Information Transactions).
“In 2020, the government took advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to bolster its repressive weapons against journalists, who are now banned from publishing not only“ false information ”in relation to the coronavirus but also any“ information ” hostile to the president or government, ”the report continued.
Rencana says authorities need to provide more support to journalists, so they can do their job without fear.
“We need the police to help, especially during the pandemic when our work is even harder than usual,” he said. “How can we be professional when we have to deal with all of these problems at the same time, and worry about being fired or arrested when we’re just trying to do our job?”
“This is a democracy, but how can a democracy function in such conditions?”