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Indonesian president grants remission to a journalist's murderer

Members of AJI take part in a protest against the remission granted to Susrama, the accused in a journalist's murder, Jakarta, Indonesia, 25 January 2019
Members of AJI take part in a protest against the remission granted to Susrama, the accused in a journalist's murder, Jakarta, Indonesia, 25 January 2019

Anton Raharjo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Indonesian president Joko Widodo's move to grant remission to I Nyoman Susrama, the convicted mastermind behind the murder of Radar Bali journalist Anak Agung Gde Bagus Narendra Prabangsa, has disappointed and hurt the Indonesian press community. The president's decision was stated in the Presidential Decree No. 29/2018 issued on December 7, 2018. The decree has effectively reduced Susrama's life sentence to "temporary" or a maximum of 20 years imprisonment. Susrama was one of 115 murder convicts that were granted remission.

Susrama was sentenced to life imprisonment nearly nine years ago. The killing was motivated by Prabangsa's reporting on corruption allegations that involved Susrama. The stories were published on Radar Bali daily around two months before the murder. The police investigation, witness examination and evidence at court showed that Susrama was the mastermind behind the killing. He was proven to have ordered his personnel to pick up Prabangsa at his parents' home in Taman Bali, Bangli, on February 11, 2009.

Prabangsa was then taken to the backyard of Susrama's house in Banjar Petak, Bebalang, Bangli. Susrama at that time instructed his personnel to beat Prabangsa - to near death. Prabangsa was still alive when they took him to Goa Lawah beach, in Blatung, Pesinggahan village, Klungkung regency. The group then dragged Prabangsa to a boat before throwing his body into the sea. The body, five days later, was found floating in waters in Bungsil strait, Bali.

Prabangsa's murder was one of the many killings of journalists in Indonesia. His case, however, was among the very few that had been investigated and resolved while the law ignored many other prominent cases, such as the murder of Fuad M. Syarifuddin (Udin), journalist for Bernas daily in Yogyakarta (1996); the killing of Herliyanto, a contributor to Radar Surabaya daily (2006); the death of Ardiansyah Matrais, journalist for Jubi Tabloid and Merauke TV (2010); and the killing of Alfrets Mirulewan, journalist with the Pelangi weekly tabloid in Kisar Island, Southwest Maluku (2010).

In contrast to those cases, where the murderers went unpunished, the killers of Prabangsa were tried and convicted. In a trial in Denpasar District Court on February 15, 2010, judges found Susrama guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Eight others who were also involved in the killing were sentenced to from five to twenty years. The convicts later filed an appeal but were rejected by the Bali High Court in April 2010. The judges at the Supreme Court supported the High Court's decision on September 24, 2010.

However, President Joko Widodo, through his decree, has reduced Susrama's sentence. Responding to the decree, the Alliance of Independent Journalist (AJI):

1. Condemns President Joko Widodo's decision in granting a remission to the mastermind behind the brutal murder of Anak Agung Gde Bagus Narendra Prabangsa. The court found that the killing was motivated by Prabangsa's reporting and that the murder was premeditated. The verdict for Susrama was lighter than the death sentence demanded by the prosecutors.

2. Protests the decree, for it has obstructed justice and hurt the victim's family and Indonesian journalists in general.

3. Demands President Joko Widodo retract his decision to grant remission to Susrama. AJI views the sentence reduction as an unwise decision, and that it sends an inhospitable message to the Indonesian press. AJI believes that letting murderers of journalists go unpunished, or reducing their sentences, will only encourage further impunity practices. Such practices or a culture of impunity will only prompt new violence against journalists to recur.

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