Indonesian police probe arson accusation in death of reporter

JAKARTA (Reuters) -Indonesian police are investigating an accusation by a journalists' group that arson was behind a fire that killed a reporter and three of his family, an official said on Tuesday, a rare incident that has prompted concern over media freedom.

The Southeast Asian nation ranks 111th among 180 countries on the 2024 press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which has said journalists investigating corruption there are often subjected to intimidation and violence by authorities.

Indonesia's association of independent journalists (AJI) blamed arson for a June 27 blaze in the North Sumatra home of a reporter, Rico Sempurna Pasaribu, after he reported on illegal gambling involving local officials.

The Kompas newspaper said the journalist died along with his wife, one of his children and a grandchild, citing his daughter.

District police official Oloan Siahaan told Reuters that police were investigating the cause, adding that it was still unclear whether the fire had been set intentionally.

The case drew condemnation from journalists' groups. In a statement on Tuesday, AJI called it "a severe violation of press freedom in Indonesia" that set a dangerous precedent.

Press freedom is "fully guaranteed by the constitution", Indonesia's presidential palace said in a statement, adding that it supported the police to investigate the case professionally and transparently.

In the AJI statement, Anthony Bellanger, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, urged authorities to take immediate and decisive action to ensure justice for the reporter and his family.

(Reporting by Ananda Teresia and Stanley Widianto; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)