Coronavirus: Five in Indonesia arrested for allegedly instigating arson, looting

Indonesian police officers stand guard at a checkpoint in Jakarta on April 10, 2020.
Indonesian police officers stand guard at a checkpoint in Jakarta on April 10, 2020.PHOTO: EPA - EFE

Indonesian police have arrested five people who allegedly instigated others to commit arson and looting as the poor grapple with declining income due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Police said at the weekend that the five arrested last Friday are part of a group of people orchestrating planned chaos this Saturday in several cities across Java.

As of last Saturday, 81 per cent of the confirmed Covid-19 cases in Indonesia were from Java, the country's most populous island.

The group calls itself Anarko Sindikalis, or anarchic unionists.

They have spray-painted electrical poles and walls with messages that say: We are in Crisis. Let's Burn; Kill the Rich; and Fight or Die for Nothing.

"They are not happy with the policies taken by the government and tried to take advantage of the current situation where a lot of people are feeling anxious," Jakarta police chief Nana Sudjana said in a live broadcast on the police's Instagram account at the weekend.

Four of the individuals arrested are aged 18 to 21, while police have not provided details on the fifth. Under Indonesia's criminal code, they face a maximum 10-year jail term if convicted.

Four of them were arrested in Tangerang, a satellite town outside Jakarta, and the fifth in another satellite town, Bekasi, last Friday by a joint police operation between Jakarta and Tangerang police.

Three of the four arrested in Tangerang were having drinks at Cafe Egalitarian, which police believe to be where they made plans for their acts of vandalism.

They had vandalised at least four locations in Tangerang, by spray-painting public walls and pavements with provocative messages, police said.

Among the evidence confiscated were books on anarchism and unionism. Further investigation into who else is involved in the movement is under way.

 
 
 
 

Meanwhile, Jakarta is set to be joined by five adjacent cities and regencies this week in enforcing tough social distancing measures from Wednesday, for two weeks initially. Observers equate this aggressive measure to a semi-lockdown.

The five places, within West Java province, include Bekasi, Bogor and Depok. Last Friday, police, soldiers and public order officers took to the streets of Jakarta to enforce the just-announced semi-lockdown, locally termed as large-scale social distancing measures, as the capital grappled with surging infections and deaths from Covid-19.

"If this works, it would flatten the curve of the coronavirus spread starting in late June. But if we are not disciplined, this would continue in the coming months," West Java provincial governor Ridwan Kamil said yesterday.

Those breaching the rules face a fine of up to 100 million rupiah (S$9,000) and a year in prison.

Motorcycle taxis can deliver food and goods, but passenger rides are prohibited. Anyone venturing out for essential purposes must wear a mask, and residents are otherwise required to stay home.

The world's fourth-most populous country of nearly 270 million people yesterday registered another 46 deaths within the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of fatalities to 373 - the highest across South-east Asia. As many as 4,241 people have tested positive.

Jakarta accounts for more than half the national total, with 195 dead and 2,044 infected. It recorded 36 more deaths and 96 new cases yesterday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2020, with the headline 'Five in Indonesia arrested for allegedly instigating arson, looting'. Subscribe