Indonesian Islamic College Bans Magazine Reporting Sexual Abuse

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Students protest outside the Ambon administrative court on July 7, 2022, in support of Lintas magazine, which the State Islamic Institute in Ambon ordered closed in March.
© 2022 Yolanda Agne

One would hope that an educational institution that learned of sexual assaults on campus would focus on holding perpetrators accountable and preventing further incidents rather than targeting the messenger. Not so the State Islamic Institute in Ambon (Institut Agama Islam Negeri Ambon, IAIN Ambon) in Indonesia’s Maluku province, which instead of recognizing and valuing a student magazine’s groundbreaking and thorough investigation, ordered its shutdown.

On March 14, when Lintas magazine reported on dozens of incidents of sexual violence on campus taking place between 2015 and 2021, the story unsurprisingly created an uproar. Lintas had spent 5 years investigating the story, interviewing 32 sexual violence survivors (27 female and 5 male students) as well as campus officials, including Zainal Abidin Rahawarin, the IAIN Ambon rector. The magazine identified 14 alleged perpetrators. Some of the victims, who were not named, detailed sexual assaults that took place during field research trips, on campus, or in lecturers’ offices and houses.

Five men who said they were relatives of one of the lecturers, whom Lintas alleged had asked a survivor to delete sexting messages, went to Lintas’ newsroom and assaulted two staff members, reporter M. Nurdin Kaisupy and designer Muh. Pebrianto.

Three days later, Rahawarin closed the student magazine, ordering campus security to seal the newsroom and seize all equipment, accusing its reporters and editors of “defaming IAIN Ambon.” He reported nine journalists to the police.

Asked to reveal the names of the victims and the alleged perpetrators, Yolanda Agne, Lintas’ chief editor, instead suggested that the campus set up a task force on sexual violence similar to what the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which is in charge of all Islamic schools and universities, had mandated by regulation in 2019. IAIN Ambon has so far not done so.

The magazine’s shutdown prompted more than two dozen journalists’ groups and student media outlets to protest, including Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists as well as local groups in Ambon.

The government’s religious affairs minister, Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, should take a hands-on approach to untangle this standoff. He should order the reopening of the Lintas newsroom and work with other state agencies to ensure an impartial and comprehensive investigation of the alleged sexual assaults.

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