Chiara Anindya & Tri Utami Rosemarwati
Yogyakarta — Udin was lying on his bed on Aug. 13, 1996. It was an ordinary night for him. His wife, Marsiyem, was ironing clothes.
A visitor knocked at his door at 10:30 p.m. Udin went out to meet his guest. Less than five minutes later, Marsiyem found her husband lying unconscious on the ground.
The night ended as the beginning of a case that challenges the press freedom in Indonesia.
Covering the truth at all costs
Fuad Muhammad Syafruddin, better known as Udin, was a journalist for Harian Bernas, a local newspaper in Yogyakarta. He was known for his bold coverage against the government. He died on August 16, 1996 — three days after he was attacked in front of his house.
Prior to his death, Udin found proof on government bribery involving Sri Roso Sudarmo, former Bantul district head. Putut Wiryawan, Editor in Chief for Harian Bernas retold the case to us.
“It was close to the upcoming election. Sri Roso Sudarmo was ambitious to maintain his position as district head, but he didn’t qualify as a candidate (of district head). However, he suddenly qualified after the Dharmais Foundation received a donation of a billion rupiahs (approximately USD 75.255).”
The statement letter was signed by Sri Roso, along with Noto Suwito, former Chief of Argomulyo village. Suwito was the brother of the former Indonesian president who ruled for more than 30 years during Orde Baru (the New Order), Soeharto.
During the New Order, the Indonesian press faced countless oppression from the government. At that time, Harian Bernas was known as a critical media, brave enough to criticize the government.
Aside from the bribery, Udin also uncovered a fraud on the implementation of the Indonesian Government Poverty Alleviation program (IDT) at Imogiri district. After the news was published, Putut stated that several government officials forced Bernas to drop the story because “the report was not true”, and demanded them to publicly apologize. Bernas declined to do so.
An exhaustive report released by the fact-finding team found that Udin’s death was strongly tied to the ruling regime of Soeharto. This led the Alliance of Indonesian Independent Journalists (AJI) to believe that Udin was murdered because of his journalistic activities. However, police insisted that he was murdered due to jealousy.
The fact-finding team requested the opinion of Djamaludin Ancok, a psychology professor at the University of Gadjah Mada. Putut, who was also a member of the team, said that “Professor Ancok concluded that Udin’s reports were classified as ‘bold’ and ‘progressive’.
Udin’s wife, Marsiyem remembered Udin as a humble person.
“My husband was a reserved and rather quiet person,” she said during the interview. “He had high moral standards, an idealist at heart. He always said that as long as the proof of injustice exists, a journalist must cover it, at all costs.”
The case was handled by Yogyakarta police. After twenty years, Udin’s murderer has yet to be found. When interviewed during his inauguration, former Police Chief of Yogyakarta, Prasta Wahyu Hidayat, promised that he would “study the case.” Until the end of his term, the case remains unsolved.
The Missing Evidence
It was already late at night when Marsiyem heard a knock at the door. She answered to a man who requested to meet her husband. Marsiyem remembered the visitor as being well-mannered, about 25 – 30 years of age. The man wore a red bandana on his head.
“Udin’s friends would sometimes visit during the night, and the man had a polite demeanor, so I wasn’t suspicious,” she said.
Marsiyem called her husband and left. Less than five minutes later, her gut forced her to check on her husband.
“I didn’t hear anything at all. Udin knew martial arts, and he would have shouted for help. But I heard nothing,” she admitted.
When she saw Udin lying on the ground, Marsiyem panicked and called for help. Incidentally, Sri Kuncoro, a nephew of Sri Roso, was passing by with his friends.
Sri Kuncoro, along with Marsiyem, took Udin to Bethesda Hospital. Shortly after, he went into a coma until his death three days later.
During the interview, Marsiyem said that Sri Kuncoro visited their house repeatedly for three days prior to the attack. The event didn’t strike her as an oddity because Sri Kuncoro was Udin’s friend.
“He asked if Udin was already home, because he wanted to chat,” Marsiyem said.
Udin’s medical report showed that he suffered heavy blows in the stomach and head. He was hit by a shock-absorber which was picked up from a nearby garage. The report led the fact-finding team to do a profiling of the murderer.
The team concluded that the murderer was shorter than Udin, as he had to hit Udin on the stomach before delivering the final blow. The fact that neither Marsiyem nor their neighbors heard anything during the attack meant that the murderer was a professional. Marsiyem believed that the murderer was a police officer or someone of its equivalent.
Udin’s death had several apparent peculiarities which frustrated supporters of the case. The police insisted that jealousy was the motive and arrested Dwi Sumaji, known as Iwik, as the murderer. Iwik was the husband of Narti, Udin’s classmate in high school.
“Police insisted that Iwik was the murderer, but I swear to God that he wasn’t,” Marsiyem said.
“Police said that they found Narti’s picture inside of Udin’s wallet, which they claimed as sufficient evidence to arrest Iwik as the murderer,” Marsiyem said.
Iwik denied the accusation, and so did Narti.
“Narti said that she didn’t really remember Udin, and was even surprised to know that the journalist that was murdered was her former classmate,” she said.
Iwik was arrested, but was soon released due to lack of evidence.
During his trial, Iwik insisted that he was forced by to admit that he was the murderer by Edi Wuryanto, a police officer who invtestigated the case. Iwik claimed that Edi brought Iwik to Parangtritis beach to talk. There, he was offered alcohol and prostitutes by Edi, who asked for his cooperation during the trials.
Marsiyem also noted that Edi disposed of several evidences. The shirt that Udin wore at the time of the attack, along with Udin’s blood sample, was thrown to south coast of Java island as “an attempt to ask for Nyi Roro Kidul’s (the Indonesian Goddess of the Sea) help in solving the case.”
Afterwards, Edi was transferred to the police headquarters in Jakarta.
An icon of press
After the release of Iwik, the search for Udin’s murderer continued. However, article 78 – 80 of the Indonesian criminal code states that the right to prosecute shall lapse by lapse of time in eighteen years for all crimes upon which capital punishment or life imprisonment is imposed. As of August 16, 2014, the case of Udin has legally expired.
Now, nearly twenty one years after his death, Udin’s murderer remains a mystery.
For the past twenty years, AJI acted as a pressure group to ensure the solving of the case. Along with Koalisi Masyarakat untuk Udin (Citizen’s Coalition for Udin), AJI tirelessly urged both the government and police to solve the case.
“I really appreciate AJI’s help to our family,” Marsiyem said, “but the police remained silent. They never gave us answers.”
Bambang Muryanto, AJI member, said that the unsolved case of Udin symbolizes the lack of goodwill by both the Indonesian government and police to promote a safe environment for journalists.
“Udin may have worked for Harian Bernas, but he died as a journalist,” he said. “His death disgraces the press freedom in Indonesia. He was murdered because of his progressive reports against the New Order government, and that is what makes him an icon.”
At the moment, the case has lost all legal rights, but AJI refuses to forget. The Yogyakarta branch of AJI routinely conducts monthly “silence actions”.
“On the 16th of each month, we plaster our mouths and stand in front of the Yogyakarta police headquarters for an hour. We also bring posters and signs.”
Bambang, a Jakarta Post journalist, said that the act was AJI’s last resort of advocating for the truth.
“We are at a loss of words. We have done every possible action. This act is our way of conveying a very important message to the public; that the death of Udin remains as a moral responsibility for the police, and that we, journalists of Indonesia, refuse to forget the injustice that taints the press freedom in Indonesia.”
The writers are students of Gadjah Mada University