Crackdown on activists and protests persist in Indonesia while draft criminal code revisions could further curtail dissent

Crackdown on activists and protests persist in Indonesia while draft criminal code revisions could further curtail dissent
Protest against the reduction in fuel subsidies in Surabaya ( Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)

The state of civic space in Indonesia is rated ’obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. Among violations previously documented include the arrest, harassment and criminalisation of human rights defenders and journalists as well as excessive use of force by the police during protests, especially in the Papuan region. Digital repression continues to be reported.

Human rights groups have continued to raise concerns about provisions in the draft amendments of the Indonesian Criminal Code, recently made public, that will negatively impact civic space and fundamental freedoms in the country. A previous draft contained several provisions that could undermine civic space. These include Articles 218 and 219 (defamation and insults against the President and Vice President), Articles 240 and 241 (defamation and insults against the government), as well as Article 351 and 352 (defamation and insults against public authorities and State institutions) which will carry the punishment of imprisonment for committing such offences. The draft also contains provisions (Article 256) that will criminalise individuals who organise peaceful protests without notification and impose fines and up to six months imprisonment.

Civil society groups had raised concerns since 2019 around the inaccessibility of the draft amendments to the public, rendering meaningful participation in the decision-making process impossible. Following ongoing pressure an updated version of the draft code was made public on 6th July. In August 2022, it was reported that the government had begun a series of “public discussions” on the planned revisions to the Criminal Code, but civil groups say the meetings represent a mere formality and that policymakers are not open to making real changes to the bill.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced in August 2022 that he had signed a decree to set up a team to establish the truth about gross human rights abuses from Indonesia’s past. However, activists fear it “could perpetuate impunity because the body has no power to bring perpetrators to justice” and “seems to be designed to settle cases of human rights violations by providing compensation for victims only”.

On 12th September 2022, Nada Al-Nashif, UN Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights raised concerns about Indonesia at the 51st session of the Human Rights Council. She stated that in the Papua region (Papua and West Papua Provinces) of Indonesia, the UN has received reports of intensified violence, including clashes between the Indonesian security forces and armed groups resulting in unknown numbers of civilian casualties and fatalities and internal displacement. She was also alarmed by reports of the dismembered bodies of four Indigenous Papuan civilians found outside Timika in West Papua Province on 22nd August. She urged a thorough, impartial and independent investigation, holding those responsible to account.

In recent months, civil society groups have raised concerns about invasive content moderation regulations and digital attacks as well as harassment and intimidation of journalists. The criminalisation and harassment of Papuan activists persist as well as excessive force by police around protests in the restive region. Excessive force has also been documented around protests against fuel price hikes. Activists have also raised concerns on the trial around a deadly crackdown on a protest in Paniai in 2014.


NGO coalition calls for repeal of invasive content moderation regulations

In July 2022, a coalition of NGOs urged the Minister of Communication and Information of the Republic of Indonesia to repeal Ministerial Regulation Number 5 Year 2020 (MR5) and its amendment, Ministerial Regulation Number 10 Year 2021 (MR10). Both regulations contain invasive content moderation provisions which are inconsistent with internationally recognised human rights, including the freedom of expression and to hold opinions online without interference.

Ministerial Regulation 5 (MR5), which came into force in November 2020 with little consultation, requires all private digital services and platforms to register with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology and agree to provide access to their systems and data as specified in the regulation. Those that fail to register will be blocked in Indonesia.

Among the concerns raised by the groups include the mandatory registration of private “Electronic System Operators” (ESOs) under MR5 and MR10 as the regulations do not comply with Indonesia’s constitutional or international human rights obligations and will severely impede internet freedom through the imposition of excessive penalties for non-compliance.

Other concerns include that there was insufficient public participation in the development of legislation, policies and implementing guidelines related to MR5 and MR10 and that the authoritarian enforcement against private ESOs could disrupt the civic space for individuals to exercise their online freedoms. There are also concerns that it could be used to harass citizens and, in particular, human rights defenders in Indonesia for expressing themselves online.

Hacking and intimidation around online event

On the evening of 30th July 2022, a number of members of civil society organisations as well as the general public held a Twitter Space discussion titled #BlokirKominfo to respond to the blocking of a number of websites that had not been registered as Electronic System Operators (ESOs) with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.

According to Amnesty International, during and after the Twitter Space discussion, at least 10 people were subjected to attempted hacking and intimidation via WhatsApp related to the #BlokirKominfo campaign. They include threats against the individuals and their families.

In response, Amnesty International Indonesia Deputy Director Wirya Adiwena said: "Digital hacking and harassment is again being directed at people who are critical of government policies, to make us afraid to express our criticism. Cases like this have happened too often without a clear resolution and without any of the perpetrators being brought to justice."

According to Amnesty International, throughout 2021 there were at least 26 cases of hacking or digital attacks against at least 52 accounts of human rights defenders, consisting of activists, journalists, academics and students.

Journalists face harassment and intimidation

There has been a series of incidents of harassment and intimidation against journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that on 9th July 2022, in the eastern province of Maluku, an aide for provincial Governor Murad Ismail grabbed Molluca TV reporter Sofyan Muhammadiyah’s phone while he covered student demonstrations against the governor. The aide, identified in that statement as I Ketut Ardana, deleted video footage that Muhammadiyah had recorded of Ismail threatening student protesters.

On 14th July 2022, near the residence of the National Police Internal Affairs Division’s Chief Inspector General Ferdy Sambo, in Jakarta, three unidentified men dressed in black harassed a journalist working with CNN Indonesia and another with the local news website 20Detik while they covered the aftermath of a 8th July lethal shooting of a police officer. The men forcibly searched the journalists’ bags and seized their cellphones, deleted footage of an interview they had conducted and ordered the journalists not to report near Sambo’s residence.

On 17th August 2022, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported that Regina Goldie Jolinda Amoreka, a journalist with online news outlet Tribun Palu, was reporting on Indonesia’s 77th Independence Day ceremony but was moved on by an officer of the public order agency (Satpol PP) to an area assigned to members of the Palu Communication and Information Technology Agency. After arriving at the new location, another officer grabbed Amoreka’s shoulder and seized her mobile phone.

On 1st September 2022, journalist Nurkholis Lamaau from was assaulted by the brother of the Deputy Mayor of Tidore in Maluku provice for an article he had written about coal dust pollution.


Criminalisation and harassment of Papuan activists persist

Papuan activists continue to remain in detention or have been convicted on politically motivated charges. 

Seven Papuan students were convicted and sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment on 30th August 2022 for raising the banned Morning Star flag, a symbol of Papuan independence, on 1st December 2021.

As previously documented, the seven raised the flag at the Cenderawasih Sports Centre for about 30 minutes and then lowered it. They were formally charged with treason (makar) at the Jayapura state court on 17th May 2022 under Articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code. The seven include Melvin Yobe, Melvin Fernando Waine, Devion Tekege, Yosep Ernesto Matuan, Maksimus Simon Petrus You, Lukas Kitok Uropmabin and Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere.

Papuan human rights defender Victor Yeimo has now spent 18 months in detention. As previously documented, Yeimo, a pro-independence activist and international spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat or KNPB), was arrested on 9th May 2021 and has been charged with treason under Articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code. Human rights groups believe the charges stemmed from his peaceful involvement in anti-racism protests in 2019 and his participation at a UN Human Rights Council session the same year. Since his arrest he has been suffering from severe health conditions.

On 14th September 2022, the Human Rights Council published a report on intimidation and reprisals against those seeking to cooperate or having cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In the report it highlighted the case of Victor Yeimo as well as Wensislaus Fatubun and Yones Douw.

Wensislaus Fatubun, human rights defender and advisor for human rights of the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP) was arrested, questioned about his advocacy and engagement with international mechanisms and released the following day. Yones Douw, a member of the Indigenous Me tribe, who documents alleged violations in West Papua, was targeted, questioned by military officers, monitored and followed in relation to documentation and reporting of alleged human rights violations to the OHCHR. According to information received by OHCHR, Fatuban and Douw continued to receive phone calls from the authorities inquiring about their work, and who they report to. They were both reportedly followed and remained under surveillance by unidentified individuals.

Human rights commission to probe killing of activist 18 years ago

On 7th September 2022, Indonesia’s human rights commission said it would set up a team to investigate the killing of prominent human rights activist Munir Said Talib. He was fatally poisoned aboard an international flight while traveling to the Netherlands from Jakarta on a Garuda Indonesia flight in September 2004.

Munir was arguably Indonesia’s most internationally recognised human rights lawyer. He helped set up the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) and took up the cause of dozens of activists who had been subjected to enforced disappearances during the last months of the Suharto government in 1998. He also played a significant role in uncovering evidence of military responsibility for human rights violations in Aceh and Timor-Leste.

An autopsy carried out by the Dutch authorities showed that he died as a result of arsenic poisoning. Although three people have now been convicted for involvement in the killing, there are credible allegations that those responsible for ordering his murder are still at large.

A 2005 report by an independent fact-finding team established by former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has yet to be made public, although publication of the findings had been recommended by the presidential decree that established the team. On 31st December 2008, Muchdi Purwoprandjono, a former deputy chief of the state intelligence agency, was acquitted of soliciting and assisting in the killing of Munir. Human rights groups had raised concerns that the proceedings did not meet international fair trial standards.

Peaceful Assembly

Excessive use of force and arrests around protests in Papua

In June 2022, peaceful demonstrations in Papua were once again met with obstruction and excessive use of force from Indonesian police.

According to Amnesty International, on 3rd June, demonstrations were held in various towns across Papua to protest the central government’s plans to split the provinces of Papua and West Papua into new autonomous regions. Activists, human rights defenders and Indigenous Papuans have raised concerns that the new provinces will serve as an excuse to further militarise Papua, as each province in Indonesia is required to have its own military command and regional police force.

At least 44 protestors were arrested and at least 25 people injured after police forcibly dispersed them in four towns. In Jayapura at least two people were arrested and 11 injured; 22 were arrested in Nabire; two were arrested and two injured in Timika; five were arrested and 10 injured in Sorong; and 13 were arrested in Merauke.

Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said: “Indigenous Papuans have a right to peacefully protest against government policies without running the risk of being arrested or beaten. These repeated incidents show that the state has no respect for the voices of Indigenous Papuans.”

Water cannon and tear gas used against groups protesting soaring fuel prices

In September 2022, thousands of protesters demonstrated in Indonesia’s largest cities seeking to pile pressure on the government to reverse the country’s first subsidised fuel price hike in eight years amid soaring inflation.

Protests were held in and around the capital Jakarta and in the cities of Surabaya, Makassar, Kendari, Aceh and Yogyakarta as part of a series of demonstrations led by students and labour unions. The government deployed thousands of police officers to control crowds and guard gas stations across the country.

On 6th September 2022, hundreds of students from several student organisations gathered at Jakarta’s National Monument. Protesters also burnt tyres and blocked the roads in several places. On 15th September, more protests were held and clashes were reported with the police in Jakarta.

In the city of Bengkulu on 6th September, police used water cannon and tear gas against students, with at least eight arrested. They were subsequently released. Water cannon and tear gas were also used in Palembang in South Sumatera province, Pematang Siantar in North Sumatera province and Bima in West Nusa Tenggara province to disperse the protests.

Activists raise concerns about Paniai trial

Eight years after a deadly crackdown on protesters in Paniai in Papua by security forces, one sole individual has been charged and brought to trial in a human rights court.

On the morning of 8th December 2014, at least four protesters were killed and over a dozen injured when security forces, both police and military, opened fire on a crowd that was protesting at the Karel Gobai field located near the Paniai District Military Command (Koramil) in Papua province. The crowd had gathered to protest against soldiers from the Special Team Battalion 753, who had allegedly beaten a child from Ipakije village the night before, who had to be hospitalised.

The National Human Rights Commission, which initially led the investigation into the Paniai killings, found credible evidence that at least four different branches of the Indonesian security forces were involved in the killings, including army infantry and air force officers. The evidence also included videos of military personnel carrying assault rifles, eyewitness testimony and internal communications up the chain of command.

The defendant, Isak Sattu who was a liaison officer for the Paniai Military Command at the time, has been indicted for not having taken appropriate steps to prevent the incident from occurring. The prosecutor said that around the time of the incident, one of Isak's subordinates fired a warning shot and asked for Isak’s directions.

Human rights activists and the families of the victims have slammed the trial, which began on 21st September, as a farce to deflect international security and called on the authorities to investigate more suspects in the case, including high-level officials who they believe ordered lethal force. In August 2022, the victims’ families announced they would not participate in the trial. They say the Attorney General’s Office has not included them in the case.

Activists have also criticised the fact that the trial is being held in Makassar thousands of kilometres away rather than in Papua. Director of the Papua Legal Aid Institute (LBH Papua) Emanuel Gobay said that the trial “ignored the rule of law” and that based on the Special Autonomy Law No. 1/2021, Articles 45-47 recommended the establishment of a human rights court in Papua in order to resolve rights violations. With the trial so far away, there were concerns about risks to witnesses.