ICFJ Trainee Builds Citizen Journalists Network that Exposes Religious Intolerance in Indonesia

Apr 242011

Just hours after an attack on members of a minority Muslim sect in Indonesia, Jakarta-based freelance journalist and media trainer Andreas Harsono received a gruesome video. It came from one of his trainees, a citizen journalist in Banten Province, two hours from Jakarta. In it, a mob of angry young men took turns beating three people to death while policemen looked on.

Harsono, founder of Pantau (Monitor), a Jakarta-based NGO that trains citizens in writing, multimedia journalism and social media, posted the video on YouTube. It went viral, receiving 40,000 views in 24 hours. The video appeared on international news outlets including the Associated Press, the BBC, the Voice of America, CNN, Al Jazeera, NHK, Agence France Presse, and Reuters TV.

Ever since Harsono took part in an ICFJ program “Faith in Media: Improving Coverage of Islam and Other Religions,” he has become a leading voice on religious violence against the Ahmadiya, a minority Muslim sect. In the program, funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York, Muslim-world journalists teamed up with Western journalists for joint reporting projects.

Harsono teamed up with American journalist Jamila Trindle, then working for National Public Radio. Each produced a series of hard-hitting reports. Trindle's World Focus video report explored the repercussions of the rise in Islamic fundamentalism on the Ahmadiya. Harsono's four-part story "Mereka Yang Teraniaya dan Terusir" (“Those Who are Persecuted and Expelled”) ran in the Bahasa weekly Gatra magazine and on his blog. The series provided a comprehensive look at the struggles of the Ahmadiya as they fled their villages to escape persecution.

Participants Jamila Trindle and Andreas Harsono, along with Jakartan cameraman Lexy Rambadetta, interview an Ahmadiyah farmer. (Credit: Basyiruddin Aziz)

Since then, Ahmadiya students have signed up for his courses and together they formed a new network of citizen journalists-activists, eager to publicize atrocities against their sect. One Ahmadi trainee, Firdaus Mubarik, is considered a spokesman for the cause.

“More than a dozen Ahmadi activists took my writing classes,” Harsono says. “Now they form the core of a network of Ahmadi activists, monitoring and writing about the repression in Indonesia.”

Harsono says citizen journalists now play a big role in uncovering abuses. “Every citizen can be a journalist now, with smart-phones or through blogs,” he says. “And there is tremendous power in a new generation of informed citizens with the right tools to spread their messages.” Harsono also monitors the situation for Human Rights Watch.