Reporters Without Borders is saddened to learn of the death of investigative journalist Ardiansyah Matra’is, whose body was found in a river in the eastern province of Papua two days after he was reported missing. The cause of death has not yet been official determined, but his mental state suggests it was suicide.
Employed by Merauke TV, a local station in the south of the province, Matra’is had been seriously depressed for months after being threatened by soldiers because of his coverage of illegal logging. His body was found by a search and rescue team in the River Gudang Arand near Merauke at 6:30 a.m. on 30 July
Reporters Without Borders calls for a serious and impartial investigation into the link between his death and the harassment to which he had been subjected. Coming after the flight of a journalist who investigated an illegal logging ring in Simeuleu, in the western province of Aceh, the death of Matra’is seems to confirm the dangers of covering deforestation in Indonesia.
The press freedom organisation also urges the Papua provincial authorities to guarantee the ability of the local media to work freely. In the run-up to local elections, journalists have been exposed to frequent threats in the province.
Before joining Merauke TV, Matra’is had worked for ANTV, a national television station, Jubi, a magazine based in Jayapura (the provincial capital), and Rajawali, a regional daily. Last year, he wrote a series of reports for Jubi about illegal logging by local military officers, and managed to take photos of their operations.
Local sources told Reporters Without Borders that a member of the national intelligence agency, posing as a journalist, subsequently contacted Matra’is and suggested they should work together on a story on the same subject. Matra’is was then kidnapped and threatened by army officers, who urged him to return to Merauke, the town where he born. “Or else we will kill all the members of your family,” they reportedly told him.
Matra’is had received treatment several times in a psychiatric hospital and stopped working several weeks before his death.
Local journalists in the region, to which the foreign media are denied access, have meanwhile reported receiving threats by SMS, apparently in connection with the forthcoming local elections. Jojo, the editor of the daily Rajawali, told the Kompas.com news website that some journalists had been getting threatening text messages for week.
“To cowardly journalists, never play with fire if you do not want to be burned,” one message said, adding: “If you still want to make a living on this land, do not do weird things.” According to Jojo, messages warned that journalists in Papua would be killed and “no action will be taken by the police or the military.” A letter apparently written in blood was also placed outside the Merauke home of Lala, a reporter for the daily Bintang Papua.
The electoral commission disqualified a candidate after local journalists investigated the destruction of another candidate’s banners, Jojo noted. Papua police spokesman Wachyono confirmed that journalists had filed complaints about the threats and that an investigation was under way.