I am Just an Ordinary Journalist

RAKYAT Merdeka online chief editor, Teguh Santosa, could face a five year jail sentence due to posting online one of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons on September 30, 2005. The controversial cartoon was one of the cartoons nominated for a competition held by leading Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. Teguh was charged for defaming religion and is currently in the process of appealing.

Teguh was detained prior to acquiring postponement of his detention. He expressed his objection to the charges of religious defamation. The following is a summary of his plea from the hearing on his second trial on September 6, 2006 at South Jakarta District Court:

This English version of his Teguh’s plea is provided by the Independent Journalist Alliance (AJI). The original version of this plea can be seen here.

A DANISH writer, Kare Bluitgen, wrote a book on the Prophet Mohammed last year. People said that the book’s content put not only the Prophet Mohammed into a corner, but also Islam. Kare Bluitgen requested the leading Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, to help design the book cover.

In response to the request, Jyllands-Posten invited about 40 illustrators to compete for drawing the face or anything in relation to the Prophet Mohammed and Islam.

On September 30, 2005 , Jyllands-Posten nominated only 12 illustrations as the winners given the consideration that those drawings most resembled the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. The 12 illustrations were all published in a weekly special edition.

It was shocking. The illustrations clearly depicted offensive defamation not only against the Prophet Mohammed but also Islam. All drawings and illustrations here depicted improper viewpoints by the Western world, as represented by Jyllands-Posten, to the Islamic world.

We first got the news from Indonesians who resided in Copenhagen informing us that Jyllands-Posten obviously committed a religious offense. They told us that Jyllands-Posten and the Danish government did not take the Islamic minority’s protests in Denmark into account.

Upon receiving these reports, as the chief editor of Rakyat Merdeka online I decided to follow the case closely. From then on, we kept on posting online the development of this sensitive case. At the time, not all Indonesian citizens in this Muslim-predominant country were well-informed. As a journalist, I thought I was one of those who had a responsibility to disseminate the hot issue here.

For what reasons? (I made it) For the purpose of making the dialogue between the two worlds balanced and perfect, instead of a one-sided dialogue; ending promptly the wrong conception about Islam and Islam’s followers; solving immediately the recent years’ escalating tensions sparked by the conflict between the West and Islam which has affected the world community; finding ways out of the conflict. And, I hope the way out here will be the most peaceful settlement.

At the time we also made contacts with other relevant parties, including the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI). We did that in our efforts to capture and also give a clear picture of Indonesia ’s and its Islamic community’s stance in this case.

Regarding the 12 illustrations, we considered one depicting the Prophet Mohammed to be the most offensive, not only against the Prophet but also Islam. The picture obviously associated Islam with violence and terrorism. The image depicted violence and terrorism delivered by the Prophet Mohammed.

The image was not the real portrait of the Prophet Mohammed but simply defamation of the Prophet. It visually rendered a man with full beard and mustache. The eyes were sharp but yet very tricky with both eyebrows pointed downward at the upper nose. The man wore a bomb-like turban with its fired fuse. On the front side of the bomb were written two Islamic professions of faith.

I decided to choose the picture to be posted online in a bid to show to the community, particularly the readers of Rakyat Merdeka online, information on the defamation by Jyllands-Posten. This was for the comprehensiveness of the news. The posting was not meant to continue the defamation nor participate in the offense.

By all means, I understand the sensitive atmosphere of the issue here. For that reason, we posted the slightly different image from the Jyllands-Posten’s original picture. I modified the image by adding long and thick red block covering the eyes in the picture. I did this in my attempt to prevent the vulgar appearance. I stated my reasons to create such blocking—to minimize the vulgar effect– on the caption. The image posted in Rakyat Merdeka online, was indeed corrected when compared to the original one published by the Jyllands-Posten.

In October 2005, people in Muslim-predominant countries like Indonesia found the case unpopular. On the other side, the Western world took no notice of the Muslim protests in Denmark and in other countries. Consequently, the case here slowly faded away.

However, following the hajj pilgrimage season in 2006, this case emerged. On February 2, 2006, at 10.00 in the Western part of Indonesian Time Zone (WIB), I posted online the same image—the offensive image of Prophet Mohammed that had been edited in a bid to minimize the vulgar effect—which had been issued online in October 2005. As it was in the prior case, the posting here was meant to complete the case coverage.

On February 2, 2006 , at 12.00.09 WIB, Rakyat Merdeka online exposed the defamation case in an article entitled, “Prophet Mohammed Humiliated, Indonesia Staged Protests”.

A few hours following the posting, some journalist colleagues contacted me. They told me that many public figures protested the posted image here. I was not so sure. Those commentators observed first the posted edited-image. Deep down inside I was wondering about their understanding on the background of the case, including the history of the case coverage on my Rakyat Merdeka news portal.

Upon considering some objections, I decided to upload an apology given that to some readers the posting here was deemed a part of religious defamation. In the public apology, I also clarified the background for posting the image. We posted the statement entitled “We Did Not Mean to Offend” on February 2, 2006 , at 18.31.49 WIB.

Immediately after posting the open statement, I removed the image from our database. This was our response and in appreciation to the readers of Rakyat Merdeka website who felt insulted due to the edited image issuance.

The following day, on February 3, 2006 , I discussed the issue with my friend from the Islam Defenders Front (FPI). From the discussion, I found out that FPI would come to our office at Graha Pena building in South Jakarta for tausiah and tabayyun. From our discussion by phone, FPI expressed its disappointment upon noting the depiction of the image. However, I explained the issue verbally, and they could understand the reasons behind the issuance of the image.

Around 200 FPI members came to our office on their way to the Danish Embassy. As it was in the prior discussion by phone, in the meeting with a number of FPI leaders, FPI expressed their understanding on the reason of the image issuance. FPI requested us to issue a public apology and remove the image. I had fulfilled those two requests the night before the meeting as our responses and appreciation to the insulted readers.

Rakyat Merdeka online editors and FPI agreed to end the controversy of the online issuance of one illustration depicting Prophet Mohammed on Thursday ( February 2, 2006 ).

I have done my best to strive to be a good journalist by complying with journalism rules of conduct, etiquettes and work methods.

I was upset following the questioning session conducted by the Jakarta Police’s Cyber Crime Unit last May. I was thinking thoughtfully in search of the best answer in my heart. Is it true that I committed religious defamation? I guess I did my job as a journalist, didn’t I?

Shortly after the investigation, I filed a complaint to the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), in which I was a member. I requested my colleagues in AJI to hold a court of ethics in the attempt to examine not only my work in relation with the issuance of the picture, but also with regard to the motive behind it.

The request was granted. A week later, the AJI Court of Ethics, with Mr. Abdullah Alamudi, Mr. Atmakusumah Astratmaja and Mr. Stanley as members, held the session which was attended by AJI Jakarta’s chairperson and secretary and me.

AJI’s Court of Ethics considered that the image, which had been edited from the Jyllands-Posten original before its upload, was journalistic work resulting from standardized journalism and in compliance with universal journalism tenets and the Journalism Ethics Code 2006.

My heart was annoyed by the fact that I was charged for committing defamation against Islam. Quite the opposite, I have been an Islamic believer since my childhood and Insya Allah will be up through the end of my life.

I was imprisoned by the district prosecutor’s office in Cipinang Penitentiary last mid-July. Having acquired the postponement of my detention, the first thing to do was to meet as many ulemas and Islamic leaders as possible. I wanted them to give me advice and inputs concerning my case.

To be more specific, I was wondering whether or not my journalistic work—reporting defamation of Islam—was deemed another part of defamation itself, and therefore could be categorized as an act of defaming religion. Straightforwardly speaking, did I commit religious defamation?

I did not find out any correlation between my deeds, my journalism activities that I have conducted, and the charges of religious defamation as stipulated in the Criminal Code’s Article 156a.

I have done my best to provide a clear picture on my way of thinking as a Muslim and a journalist. I am just an ordinary journalist but not a religious offender.

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Born in Medan, lives in Jakarta, loves Indonesia.

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