The mighty diplomatic pressure that China is able to exert onto Southeast Asian nations through its embassies and consulates is all bearing down on one man in Indonesia.
For five years Gatot S. Machali has been the director of a small radio station that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wants silenced. Indonesian authorities have taken the hint—an explicit one, according to a diplomatic memo obtained by The Epoch Times—and since 2008 have attempted to shut down its broadcasts.
The authorities started with a license denial and bureaucratic stonewalling and then escalated to a daytime raid to confiscate equipment. A legal case that threatens Machali with up to six years in prison began on March 21.
Machali, 50, is a civil engineer by training and runs a construction company 30 hours a week. After providing for a wife and two daughters he spends another 20 hours every week running Radio Erabaru 106.5 FM, a station that focuses on telling hard truths about China and “reporting true news, about humanity, and good moral programs,” according to Machali.
The station broadcasts in Indonesian, but also crucially in Chinese—meaning that it reaches the mainland Chinese Diaspora living in the country, a population that the CCP seeks to influence.
Gatot, living in Batam, Indonesia, speaks only simple English and no Chinese. He spoke to The Epoch Times through e-mails and phone calls facilitated by a translator.
“We established this radio station to fulfill the development of our country’s media. This radio station exists to help this country,” he said. “It’s a press freedom issue, so it impacts all Indonesians.”
He singles out an audio rendition of an editorial series originally published by this newspaper, “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party,” as one of the programs that benefits the country. The “Nine Commentaries” describes the nature of the Chinese Communist Party and its history of violence and deceit and calls for the Chinese to end any association with it.
Such programming most likely prompted the April 8, 2007, letter from the Chinese Embassy calling for the radio’s broadcasts to be terminated, lest China-Indonesia relations be affected.
The memo was sent to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and copied to the State Intelligence Agency, the Home Affairs Ministry, the Communications and Information Technology Ministry, and the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, called KPI.
It says that the radio station is part of a plot for “undermining China-Indonesian relations and destabilizing social order,” and “requests the Indonesian side to take measures … to terminate the license.”
Two years previously, in 2005, the local broadcasting commission was delighted with the idea of a local Batam station broadcasting in Chinese and gave it a provisional license.
But in 2007, restrictions began appearing. A regulation was handed down by the KPI limiting foreign language content to 30 percent of total programming. Then, in 2008, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology denied Erabaru a full broadcasting license.
Erabaru took the ministry to court, but was meanwhile accused of operating illegally. The case reached the Supreme Court in 2009, though when a verdict was imminent, in March 2010, Erabaru’s offices were raided by the Riau Islands Radio Frequency Monitoring Body, which confiscated transmission equipment.
The episode has led to accusations of foreign interference in Indonesia. In a piece titled “Indonesia’s Broadcast Freedom Must Be Safe From China’s Meddling,” published in the Jakarta Globe, editor John Riady strongly questioned the government’s claims.
“Many stations operate without a license. Why single one station out? … Why deploy police to clamp down on broadcast freedom on the eve of a decision that might render such an extreme intervention unnecessary?”
Andreas Wicak, a spokesperson for the Alliance of Independent Journalists in Indonesia, also singled out the unusual nature of the trial. He said the tough moves against Erabaru were “suspicious.” Unlicensed broadcasting is common in Indonesia, he said, and he’s never heard of someone being taken to trial over it.
Wicak previously attempted to cover a parade held by Falun Gong, a spiritual group that is persecuted in China and which the regime seeks to silence abroad. The police made an unusual attempt to disperse the parade by force. “I think it’s China” that influenced the authorities, he said in a telephone interview.
Benjamin Ismaïl from the Asia Desk at Reporters Without Borders, in an e-mail to The Epoch Times pointed out the wider geopolitical pattern that the Indonesia cases fit into. “The Chinese have not only enough ‘hard power’ to repress the media on its territory, but also presumably enough ‘soft power’ to influence the media landscape in neighboring countries,” he wrote.
He added: “One cannot neglect the fact that Radio Erabaru is not an isolated case.”
This year the Vietnamese government also shut down a radio station and arrested its two broadcasters, who are brothers-in-law, because they were broadcasting information about human rights from Vietnam to China, in Mandarin.
And recently the Asia Pacific subsidiary of a television broadcaster that also makes a point of human rights in China, New Tang Dynasty Television , faced problems getting its signal to China. “Even state controlled companies such as Chunghwa Telecom have difficulty resisting the pressure,” Ismaïl wrote, referring to the Taiwanese carrier of the signal.
“It is … very important not only to denounce every case of influence by China on other countries, but also to ask the governments to stop harassing the media and bowing to pressure, as they are weakening themselves when they do so,” Ismaïl concluded.
Machali is being charged with “broadcasting without authorization and disrupting neighboring frequencies” under the Telecommunications Law. He has been going to the courtroom regularly, hearing indictments, answering indictments, finding broadcasting experts to testify in Erabaru’s favor—they are sure the claims against them are a smokescreen—and parrying with prosecutors.In the meantime he continues the station. “This is press freedom that we have to fight for. We are reporting true news about killing in China,” he said, referring to the Party-state’s vast campaign of human rights abuses and religious persecutions.
He added: “As a country we have to be consistent. We can’t just surrender because of pressure and not let people know of these crimes.”
Radio Erabaru is an affiliate of Sound of Hope radio network, a media partner of The Epoch Times.