A number of civil organizations are condemning an attempt by four unknown individuals to disband a discussion on “The Future of the Tapanuli Orangutan and the Batang Toru Ecosystem” at a cafe in Tebet, South Jakarta, on Thursday (9/3/2023).
The discussion, following a media report as the result of a collaboration between five media, on threats posed by a hydro power plant to the Batang Toru landscape in North Sumatra, was about to kick off around 10:30 am when four individuals came and loudly demanded that the discussion be disbanded.
“This is unclear, disband this event. This is not allowed, not allowed. Disperse, everybody disperse,” shouted one of the four men.
Members of the organizing committee explained that among panelists present at the discussion were government representatives – Lawmaker Daniel Johan, Executive President for Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi Construction and President Director of Power Plant Construction Unit for state utility company PLN, Weddy Bernardi Sudirman.
The committee also asked the man who shouted to sit and calm down, instead he threw a chair and a heated exchange ensued, forcing the organizers to usher the men downstairs to continue their dialogue. No agreement was reached and the organizer then called the security.
One of the four men said they came from Salemba, Central Jakarta but did not give further details. The discussion resumed after the four men backed down, realizing their attempt to disburse the event had come to a dead end.
Investigate the attempt to disband the discussion
A number of civil society groups and journalist organizations condemn the attempt to disband the discussion and urge the authorities to investigate the incident to prevent future incidents.
Andi Muttaqien, Executive Director of Satya Bumi, said he did not expect the discussion to draw such a violent response, adding that the action of the four men is a violation of the freedom of expression.
“We are asking the police to prevent such similar incident from happening again,” he said.
Joni Aswira, Chairman of The Society of Environmental Journalists (SIEJ) adds that if such action left uninvestigated, it would threaten democracy. Aswira urges the government to protect its citizens in expressing their opinion.
“Those in opposition should first take the dialogue approach because the freedom of expression and opinion is protected by the constitution,” he said,
The Indonesia Forum for the Conservation of Orangutans (FORINA) also condemns the incident and urges the authorities to investigate and that the perpetrators be held accountable.
FORINA also calls on the government to protect the freedom of expression and ensure the safety of all citizens taking part in the peaceful discussion and public debate.
“We believe that all citizens have the right to take part in a discussion or public debate, express their views and opinion and be heard without the fear of intimidation or retaliation,” said FORINA chairman Aldrianto Priadjati.
Call to investigate the incident also come from the Journalist Safety Committee, an institution consisting of 10 press and civil organizations. They believe if the attempt to disband the discussion be left uninvestigated, intimidation and threats will continue in the future.
“The evidence is there and can clearly be seen in the video recording. It must be investigated whether this incident is a spontaneous action of individuals or has been planned beforehand and who is orchestrating it,” said Erick Tanjung, coordinator of the Journalist Safety Committee.
The committee says that such a public discussion, held in response to a collaborative media report should not be disrupted or even forcefully disbanded considering the importance of the topic.
The committee urges all sides to respect the discussion about a journalistic report as part of press freedom in Indonesia, Those who have objections against a journalistic work can practice their right to reply and send it directly to the concerned media organization, as stipulated in the Press Law.