Indonesia lifts social media curbs targeting hoaxes during unrest

Restrictions imposed after riots following announcement of election results last week

Indonesian anti-riot police clash with the protesters during a demonstration against Indonesia's President Joko Widodo's victory in the recent election in Jakarta, on May 22, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA • Indonesia yesterday lifted temporary social media restrictions imposed to stop online hoaxes when violence erupted after the announcement of official election results last week.

Communications Ministry official Semuel Abrijani Pangerapan told a news conference that social media had returned to normal.

The restrictions came into force last Wednesday after rioting broke out in the Indonesian capital following protests against the victory of President Joko Widodo in last month's election.

Eight people were killed and more than 900 hurt when rallies by supporters of defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto descended into violence, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets as well as using water cannon to quell the unrest.

Mr Prabowo, a retired general, has alleged the election was rigged.

The election supervisory agency has said there was no evidence of systematic cheating, and independent observers have said the vote was free and fair.

The authorities blamed a rise in online hoaxes, some calling for violent post-election attacks, for inflaming tensions, and brought in social media restrictions in order to prevent "provocations".

The move imposed limits on the ability to upload videos or photos on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and its platforms Instagram and WhatsApp.

The curbs had been criticised by opposition figures as being authoritarian. Mr Pangerapan said the government planned to tighten existing regulations to combat online hoaxes.

"We will make it an obligation for all social media platforms to actively remove hoaxes and fake news," he said.

At the same news conference, the police said a viral video showing police beating a man in Jakarta during the unrest was genuine, but added that claims that he had died were false. The police said he had been arrested for helping to instigate riots.

Meanwhile, the police arrested a man on Friday accused of creating a campaign against ethnic Indonesian Chinese to incite racial hatred, amid a proliferation of rumours alleging Chinese involvement in post-election unrest that has raised fears of ethnic violence.

The police say the suspect created a viral hoax using a photo of three Indonesian police officers at protests last week with a caption describing them as secret Chinese soldiers based on their "slanted eyes".

They presented the suspect in an orange jumpsuit and face mask at a press conference on Friday, along with three men described as the officers in the photo, deployed to Jakarta from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. "We are real Indonesian mobile brigade police. We are not Chinese officers," one of the men said.

Ethnic-Chinese Indonesians make up less than 5 per cent of the population of 260 million people in the world's most populous Muslim country.

Many successful business figures are Chinese, and the community had been a target in the past of ethnic violence and discrimination over its perceived wealth.

The influence of mainland China, Indonesia's biggest trade partner by far, is also a sensitive issue.

Several Chinese Indonesians said that the volume of anti-Chinese sentiment on social media had prompted them to take safety precautions.

Citing his experience during anti-Chinese riots that accompanied the fall of dictator Suharto in 1998, one man told Reuters he had bought a baseball bat, pepper spray and a stun gun to protect himself "just in case". He asked not to be identified.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 26, 2019, with the headline Indonesia lifts social media curbs targeting hoaxes during unrest. Subscribe