At 11:00 a.m. on March 24 accounting student Tevan Marco was in the middle of his Indonesian language broadcast of “Music and Info” at Radio Era Baru in Batam, Indonesia. Just then the police and officials from the Indonesian Radio Frequency Monitoring Agency walked through the unlocked door, switched off the station’s transmitter, and began to take away the exciter, a piece of equipment needed to broadcast.
It was the latest and most extreme move from Indonesian authorities to silence the upstart radio station, widely believed to be a result of political pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its embassy in Indonesia.
Since 2007, Radio Era Baru has been denied a license to broadcast. Their case, requesting an explanation as to why, is now before the Indonesian Supreme Court after years of being given the official runaround. They were unsuccessful at a first-degree court and an appellate court.
No reason has been provided for why they have not been granted a license to broadcast for the last three years despite meeting all technical requirements, according to the station’s director.
Recently the demands that they stop broadcasting were ramped up, culminating in Wednesday’s raid.
The apparent extralegal nature of the intervention was surprising to Vincent Brossel, head of the Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders. “There is no legal background for police intervention,” he said in a telephone interview. “At a time when different groups around the world are asking the government not to fall under pressure from the Chinese government, it's very surprising that they now decide to take down the radio by force,” he said.
Indonesian officials’ refusal to give Radio Era Baru a license began after the Chinese Embassy in Indonesia crafted a letter demanding the station be closed in 2007.
Addressed to the Department of Foreign Affairs, and copied to the National Intelligence Agency and other bodies, the letter warns of damage to relations between Indonesia and China should Era Baru not be shut down. The idiosyncratically worded letter—typical of communist bureaucratese—alleges that Radio Era Baru is “another plot” of the Falun Gong spiritual group, which it alleges is a “tool” for “anti-China forces.”
Raymond Tan, the radio director, says that he and many of his colleagues have practiced Falun Gong for years; but it’s the content of the message they broadcast that has rattled the CCP, he says.
Broadcasting in both the local language and Mandarin, Era Baru carries reports on the human rights abuses committed by the Chinese regime against Falun Gong adherents, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and others inside China. There is also a traditional Chinese culture segment, a deliberate alternative to the regime’s version of Chinese ethnicity. The signal reaches Singapore, which has a large Chinese population mostly sheltered from such views, and can be heard in the sea lanes regularly traveled by Chinese freighters.
“It's obvious that the pressure is coming from a very powerful country,” Brossel said, referring to China, and noting that a number of economic interests are at stake in the Indonesia-China relationship. The radio's Mandarin broadcast into Singapore may have also been a factor, Brossel said.
Radio station director Tan was there when the police and officials came in. He told them that the Supreme Court had acknowledged their appeal on Jan. 4, and reiterated that they should wait for a verdict before taking action.
“They ignored it and tried to stop our broadcast and tried to take our broadcasting equipment. About eight people came to our radio station,” he said. “We talked to them … but they still insisted on taking it.”
Official comments to local Indonesian media also indicate that the police and functionaries responsible do not put much stock in the Supreme Court appeal. Head of the Public Communication Division of Riau Island Police Anggaria Lopis, told local newspaper TEMPO Interactive that, “If [Radio Era Baru] are deemed of breaking the rule, then closure is the consequence.”
The officials also asked Tan to sign a form acknowledging the confiscations and forced shutdown. “I didn’t sign,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right for them to take the equipment, because there’s no verdict from the Supreme Court.”