Station reporting on human rights is forcibly closed by Indonesian authorities

Indonesia - Radio Era Baru has been broadcasting from the Indonesian city island of Batam since 2005. The station has been consistently denied a license from the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission but has a case in front of the country’s Supreme Court contesting the denial. Despite this the station was raided by Indonesian authorities on Sept. 13, who seized broadcasting equipment but failed to produce a warrant.

The station is operated by followers of the Falun Gong, which is outlawed in China. Era Baru’s broadcasts, which are in both Mandarin Chinese and the local language, can be heard in part of China. The station frequently reports on human rights issues in China, especially those involving the Falun Gong movement. It’s widely believed that a letter from the Chinese consulate in 2007 first led the Indonesian government to begin cracking down on the station.

Era Baru was closed down by police before, in March of 2010. After that incident the station was able to acquire new equipment.

International press freedom group Reporters without Borders has condemned the closure of Era Baru, calling on local authorities to respect the judicial proceeding still underway.

The station’s website is offline as I write this on September 17, though there is still an accessible Google cache of the site. The cache shows a press release dated September 13 reporting on the raid and closure.

The September 13 raid may have been brought on by the Sept. 6 conviction of Radio Era Baru’s station manager Gatot Machali on charges of broadcasting without a license. Machali was given a six-month suspended sentence and one year of probation, along with a fine equivalent to US$5,800. Machali has appealed the verdict.

Reports without Borders has written to Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Minister of Law and Human Rights asking them to intercede on Machali’s behalf. The group says that “there are many reasons for thinking that Radio Era Baru and its manager were in fact prosecuted for political reasons,” in violation of the Indonesian Constitution.