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Indonesia: Thugs Storm Newspaper Over Article

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JAKARTA (JP Online/Pacific Media Watch): A group of thugs claiming to be the relatives of local businessman Erwin Sumampouw stormed the offices of the Nuansa Pos Palu daily on Saturday, only a day after the newspaper ran an article that the attackers claimed had defamed the businessman.

The attack came less than three weeks after an unidentified mob attacked the office of the Sinar Indonesia Baru daily in Medan on April 22.

The incident in Ruslan Sangadji, Palu, Central Sulawesi, began when the daily published a story on Friday alleging that the businessman, who is also the chairman of a business association in the city, extorted a backhander amounting to 16 percent of the value of a project from a contractor. According to the story, the backhander was to be paid to officials in the Palu administration to facilitate the implementation of the project.

Erwin, the chairman of the Palu Business Association (GAPENSI), was asked to comment on the story and these comments were published on Saturday on the same page. In the afternoon, however, some 40 thugs riding on public minibuses arrived at the offices of the newspaper on Jl. Halmahera in East Palu. They threatened the journalists and warned them not to publish any further damaging stories on Erwin.

They also condemned the newspaper for what they said was its defamation of Erwin, whom some members of the mob claimed was their relative. They kicked over chairs and desks in the building, and one of them assaulted Hanafi Saro, an editor of the newspaper.

"One of them grabbed my collar. Fortunately, I remained calm so that nothing worse happened," said Hanafi in his office on Saturday, adding that some of the attackers were carrying offensive weapons, including machetes.

The daily's editor-in-chief, Bayu Alexander, revealed that he received a number of threatening phone calls on Friday night. "We will file a complaint with the police," he said.

Jafar G. Bua, the chairman of Palu's Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), criticized the use of violence in dealings with the press, saying that this approach had to be combated.

Separately, Erwin denied that he had hired thugs to storm the newspaper's offices.

"I wasn't necessary for me to ask them to attack the newspaper. I availed of my right to reply and my response was published on Saturday, and that's enough," he said.

He further claimed that he had no knowledge of who the people claiming to be his relatives actually were.



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