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Saying ‘Sorry’ is Not Enough

The chief editor of Rakyat Merdeka Online is tried for publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad.

A POSTER was brandished high in the grounds of the South Jakarta District Court. Screaming “Use the Press, Not KUHP,” the poster was brought by reporters belonging to the Alliance Rejecting Press Criminalization. Dozens of posters also decorated the first trial of Teguh Santosa, chief editor of Rakyat Merdeka Online.

Teguh was charged with insulting religion because the media that he managed published one of the infamous 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on February 2.

Rakyat Merdeka Online extracted it from Danish daily Jyllands Posten which published the cartoons in its September 30, 2005 edition. Prosecutor Firmansyah charged the person responsible for the media belonging to the Jawa Pos group with violating Article 156 on religious slur. Violators can be sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

Rakyat Merdeka published the article which reported the uproar triggered by the publication in Jyllands Posten. The article came complete with a cartoon illustrating an Arab wearing a bomb in his turban with Lailaha Illallah written on it. It was one of the cartoons in the Danish daily that enraged Muslims all over the world.

In Rakyat Merdeka Online the cartoon did not appear exactly as in the original version. The media plastered a red block over the eyes of the man in the turban. The cartoon was included, explained Teguh, to show the readers the cartoon that had caused such a furor. “There was no intention whatsoever to slur a religion,” said Teguh.

The effect was totally unexpected. It reaped protests galore. Some called the editor. Some sent SMSes and called Teguh’s cell phone. Upon seeing such reaction, Rakyat Merdeka Online pulled the cartoon and issued an apology immediately.

Fury still raged, however. The following day, approximately 200 members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) went to the media’s office in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta. Led by Machsuni Kaloko, they questioned the reason for publishing the cartoon. Teguh explained that it was merely to supplement the news. “They could understand our explanation,” Teguh told Tempo.

The matter didn’t stop there. Two months later, Teguh was summoned by the Cybercrime Unit of the Jakarta Metropolitan Police. Besides examining him, the police also confiscated one computer belonging to Rakyat Merdeka Online. Teguh was charged with insulting a religion. On July 19, the police handed over the dossier to the Chief Prosecutor’s Office in South Jakarta.

The Office moved swiftly. The afternoon after receiving the case, they placed Teguh in Cipinang Prison. “He was arrested because the punishment for the case is five years’ imprisonment,” said Prosecutor Firmansyah. Teguh was detained for one night only. He was released at the request of his wife who had just given birth three days earlier.

Teguh expressed his bewilderment that the case was processed. He’d met with Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, Fauzan al-Anshari from the Indonesian Mujahadeen Council, as well as Habib Rizieq from the FPI. According to Teguh, the leaders of the Muslim mass organizations no longer considered the case a problem.

To Tempo, Fauzan confirmed that Teguh had met with him. “There was no intention to cast slurs against the religion. That was what he told us,” said Fauzan. Fauzan said that he could accept Teguh’s reason of publishing the cartoon to supplement the news.

FPI force commander, Machsuni, also said that FPI could understand Teguh’s reason for publishing the cartoon. “We declared the matter over after Rakyat Merdeka Online withdrew the cartoon and apologized,” he said. Machsuni claimed that he was surprised that the case was brought to trial. “We never reported the case to the police,” he said.

However, according to Firmansyah, apologizing or withdrawing the cartoon doesn’t necessarily mean that Teguh’s mistake could be obliterated. Firmansyah added, four months earlier, Rakyat Merdeka Online also published the cartoon. “It means there was deliberate intent,” he said.

Firmansyah said that the crime that Teguh committed was a normal offense. In other words, even without anyone filing a complaint, the law enforcement can still process it. Lecturer at the Press Institute Dr. Soetomo Abdullah Alamudi disagreed with Firmansyah.

According to him, Teguh was merely carrying out his profession to pass on information to the public. “So, the prosecutor should use the Press Law,” said Alamudi, member of the Ethics Council for the Alliance of Independent Journalists.

The fact? The prosecutor chose the Criminal Code.

Abdul Manan

Tempo Magazine, No. 01/VII/Sept 05 - 11, 2006

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