Reporters Without Borders is the latest group to speak out on behalf of a small radio station operating in Bhatam, Indonesia, that the Chinese regime seeks to have closed.
Radio Era Baru—Era Baru means “new life”—includes in its broadcasts reports about human rights abuses in China.
In August 2008 the Indonesian authorities refused to extend the station's license and refused to say why. The station immediately appealed.
Most recently, with its appeal before the Indonesian Supreme Court, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has sent Radio Era Baru a string of letters telling them to get off the air.
Station director Raymond Tan says the station has always complied with Indonesian technical requirements, including those issued by the Riau branch of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPID), which initially gave the station permission to broadcast. He suspects more sinister reasons are behind the authorities’ insistence.
Reporters Without Borders harbors similar views. “We fear that this obstruction is the result of pressure by China,” says the organization's press release.
“The case reached the Supreme Court in 2009 but, without waiting for its ruling, the ministry sent us five letters ordering us to stop broadcasting,” Tan said to Reporters Without Borders. “Coming in the middle of an appeal procedure, this order is outrageous and unethical,” he said.
Concerns that the Indonesian authorities are acting as a proxy for the interests of the Chinese Communist Party are reinforced by a letter sent by the Chinese Embassy 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 continue to broadcast. 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 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, Tan 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 version of Chinese culture promoted by the regime. The signal reaches Singapore, which has a large Chinese population mostly sheltered from such views, as well as sea lanes regularly traveled by Chinese freighters.
Reporters Without Borders says it has written to the head of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission about the matter. “Media freedom is a constitutional right in Indonesia so no foreign government should have the right to influence official decisions on such an important subject. If Radio Era Baru is forced to close, it will be a serious violation of the freedom to report news,” it says in the press release.
On Jan. 13 Edward McMillan Scott, the vice president of the European Parliament, wrote to Indonesian authorities urging them not to cave into pressure from the Chinese regime. Other members of the European Parliament have also written to the Indonesian government on the radio station's behalf. On March 10 the Indonesian Human Rights Committee (Komnas Ham Indonesia) publicly urged the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission to explain its actions.