Journalists in Papua have staged protests demanding a police investigation into the head of Biak Numfor district for assaulting a reporter. (Antara Photo/Alfian Rumagit)

Journos Demand Charges Against Papua District Chief Over Assault

BY :BANJIR AMBARITA & ROBERT ISIDORUS

MAY 12, 2015

Jayapura. Journalists gathered for a second straight day of protests in Jayapura, the provincial capital, on Tuesday to denounce an assault on a reporter by the head of Biak Numfor district.

The protesters, representing the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI), the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Indonesian Journalists Network (IJN), among others, called for an immediate police investigation into the incident on Saturday in which the district chief, Thomas Alfa Edison Ondi, punched Cenderawasih Pos reporter Viktor Palembangan in the face and threatened him.

“We came out to demonstrate yesterday and we’re back again today to protest on behalf of our comrade,” said Jack Waly, the advocacy coordinator from the Papua chapter of the AJI.

Abdul Munif, the provincial chapter chief of the PWI, said the assault represented a blow to press freedom in Papua, where the authorities already maintain tight restrictions on reporting by the media.

“This must be investigated [by the police] because what the district chief did was a direct threat to press freedom,” he said.

Yonathan, the editor-in-chief of the Cenderawasih Pos, said the news portal had already reported the incident to the Biak Numfor district police and expected the case to be taken up by the provincial police.

He added that the newspaper had “evacuated Viktor and his family to a safe place” following the threats made against him by Thomas.

The incident took place on Saturday afternoon during a media visit to a temporary shelter set up by the Biak Numfor district administration for residents whose homes had been damaged in a recent fire.

Yonathan said that when Viktor tried to interview Thomas at the scene, the district chief suddenly grew angry with him.

“He claimed that the Cenderawasih Pos’s coverage of the initial response to the fire didn’t mention the [relief] efforts by the district administration. He said that because of that reporting, he was admonished by the provincial secretary,” Yonathan said.

He added that Thomas grew increasingly agitated and began insulting Viktor. “He then hit him in the face until his lip was swollen. The fire victims there all saw it, but they didn’t do anything,” Yonathan said.

Even after hitting the reporter, Thomas continued his tirade, Yonathan said. “He said, I’m going to make you disappear, I’m going to burn your house down.’”

Human rights lawyer Yan Cristian Warinusy said that if charged with assault, Thomas could face a jail sentence of up to two years and eight months, and encouraged the journalist to press charges.

A spokesman for the district administration said the authorities were in discussions with the Cenderawasih Pos to resolve the matter “amicably,” which typically means an undisclosed payoff and a token apology.

“But if Viktor feels that pressing charges is the best option, then go ahead,” the spokesman said.

Thomas, who was deputy district chief until the middle of last year, became district chief after the arrest of the incumbent, Yesaya Sombuk, by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) last June for bid-rigging in the awarding of an infrastructure project. Yesaya was sentenced to four and a half years in prison by a court in Jakarta last October, though not before implying that other officials in his administration may have been involved in the racket.

Thomas has never been investigated in the case.

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