At the State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) in Ambon, Indonesia, student magazine LPM Lintas was shut down in March 2022 after publishing the results of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment at the university. The investigation relied on the testimony of dozens of students. The university’s rector subsequently issued a decree to close the magazine’s offices and confiscated its equipment. Media Defence is supporting four of the student journalists, who subsequently filed an application to the Administrative Court to overturn the rector’s decision and to reinstate the magazine.
The magazine’s investigation into allegations of sexual harassment
LPM Lintas began their investigation in 2017, interviewing alleged victims of sexual violence and university officials. Five years later, they published their findings in print and online: 32 accounts of alleged sexual assault and harassment – taking place between 2015 and 2022. The magazine claimed that they had identified 14 perpetrators, including 8 lecturers and 3 employees of the university. The attacks were alleged to have taken place on campus, on field trips, and at lecturers’ homes.
The situation for journalists in Indonesia
Though independent media has grown in Indonesia since the country’s emergence from dictatorship and censorship in 1998, harassment and attacks against journalists persist. Between 2019 and 2022, Amnesty International recorded at least 133 attacks against 225 journalists and media outlets. Those covering topics such as sexual assault, corruption, organised crime, and LGBTQ+ issues are particularly at risk of reprisals.
Student journalists physically assaulted & closure of the magazine
The day after the article was published, five men claiming to be relatives of one of the lecturers accused of sexual assault arrived at the magazine’s office. They physically assaulted student journalist Nurdin Kaisupy and designer Muh Febrianto, and smashed the office windows.
A few days later, the university’s rector announced the closure of the magazine with immediate effect. In his announcement, he ordered campus security to seal the newspaper’s offices and seize all equipment. The university also reported nine student journalists to the police, who were later summoned to provide ‘clarification’.
Following the university’s announcement, numerous organisations across Indonesia came forward in support of LPM Lintas. These include media bodies such as the Association of Indonesian Television Journalists and the Alliance of Independent Journalists Ambon, as well as universities and women’s movements.
IAIN Ambon asked LPM Lintas to disclose the names of the alleged victims and perpetrators referred to in the investigation. Yolanda Agne, the magazine’s editor, instead proposed that the university follow the 2019 recommendations of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in setting up a campus task force on sexual violence. IAIN Ambon did not follow this suggestion.
Students call for annulment of magazine closure
In July 2022, four of the students working for the magazine challenged the university rector’s decree by filing a complaint in the Ambon Administrative Court. They requested the annulment of the rector’s decision so that they are able to resume publishing LPM Lintas. They argued that the ban violates their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Indonesian constitution.
Progression of legal proceedings & ongoing support for the students
The lawsuit was rejected on formal grounds at the first instance by the Administrative Court. It was also rejected on appeal. The students were also prevented from continuing their studies at IAIN Ambon due to their involvement in the legal proceedings. The case is now being appealed at the Supreme Court.
Pressure from civil society groups has resulted in the lifting of the students’ academic suspension. Additionally, a task force, for the Prevention and Handling of Sexual Violence, was established. This is an initiative which was previously resisted by the university. However, efforts to reinstate LPM Lintas continue.
The case has significant implications for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and the right to access information in Indonesia. The rejection of the case by the first and second instance courts, as well as the decision of the university’s rector to silence a student publication without a legal basis, sets a worrying precedent for other journalists in the region. A Supreme Court judgment reinstating LPM Lintas would provide a positive precedent against the arbitrary closure of similar outlets.
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