Indonesia court sentences administrator of 'fake news factory' Saracen to jail

Police believe Saracen charges clients tens of millions of rupiah to help them publish and spread fake news, as well as hate speech, against a person or persons.
Police believe Saracen charges clients tens of millions of rupiah to help them publish and spread fake news, as well as hate speech, against a person or persons.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

PEKANBARU (THE JAKARTA POST) - A district court in Sumatra has sentenced M. Abdullah Harsono, a member of an Indonesian online syndicate Saracen that is believed to spread fake news for money, to 32 months in prison.

The panel of judges at the Pekanbaru District Court in Riau province on Thursday (Jan 11) found Abdullah guilty of "intentionally spreading information to incite hate" on social media and violating the Electronic Information and Transactions Law.

The bench said Abdullah committed the crimes between April and August 2015 from his residence in Pekanbaru, Riau's capital city.

The court found that he led a hate speech campaign against President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo through an account in the name of Harsono Abdullah.

Abdullah had also used the name Muhammad Ali Firdaus to spread hate speech on Facebook to spearhead an anti-Chinese campaign, the court said.

"Therefore, the panel sentences the defendant to two years and eight months in prison," presiding judge Martin Ginting said.

The sentence fell short of the four years prosecutors had sought.

Abdullah was arrested on Aug 30 last year at his residence in Pekanbaru a month after police arrested Jasriadi, Saracen's alleged leader.

Saracen is believed to be behind what has been described as a "fake news factory". Police believe it charges clients tens of millions of rupiah to help them publish and spread fake news, as well as hate speech, against a person or persons.

Police had said in September last year that the going rate for a quick "buzz" of customised fake news online is 75 million rupiah (S$7,600).

Investigators said then that they had established a money trail between members of Saracen and a handful of people with links to street protests against former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

Basuki,a Chinese Christian politician, was accused of and later charged with blasphemy against Islam. He is now behind bars after being found guilty in May last year.

During the political campaign last year for his re-election as Jakarta governor, Basuki was frequently depicted in Internet memes or fake news, which were focused on his race and religion, to stir public dissent against him.

Police have said Saracen was led by a 32-year-old Jasriadi, who was also a Pekanbaru resident.