Indonesian police on high alert as elections approach

Supporters of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto gesturing as they shout slogans during the second debate with incumbent President Joko Widodo. The Indonesian police say there has been an increase in hostility between supporters of the two camps
Supporters of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto gesturing as they shout slogans during the second debate with incumbent President Joko Widodo. The Indonesian police say there has been an increase in hostility between supporters of the two camps not only on social media but also in public ahead of the April 17 general elections.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA • Indonesia's National Police deputy chief Ari Dono Sukmanto has said the police have been focusing on the prevention of growing confrontation between supporters of presidential candidates ahead of the legislative and presidential elections next month.

Commissioner-General Ari said the increase in hostilities between supporters of the two camps is not only on social media, but also in public. "They are usually noisy only on social media, but now they are also doing it offline. We must prevent this trend," he said at a discussion held by the Families of the National Police in Jakarta last Saturday.

The forum was attended by various institutions, including the police and rights group Setara Institute, as well as political experts.

With more than half the population connected to the Internet, Indonesians are very much attached to social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with fake news and hate speech on social media causing rows offline.

Last November, a man was shot dead in Sampang, Madura, after posting a status endorsing a presidential candidate on Facebook. He met one of those who opposed him on the street and became involved in a fight that led to his shooting.

The police have also arrested people who allegedly spread hate speech through social media.

A video that recently went viral on social media showed three women in Karawang, West Java, claiming that should incumbent President Joko Widodo be re-elected, he would ban adzan (call to prayer) and legalise same-sex marriages. The women were arrested for inciting hate speech under the Electronic Information and Transactions Law.

The police and political experts are worried that fake news and the spread of hate speech would escalate ahead of the elections.

"(The disruptive effect of misinformation) happened in the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Perhaps this could happen to us, too.

"The public must be ready to respond to this critically," Commissioner-General Ari said, referring to the rampant misinformation on Facebook that had allegedly influenced the US election.

He went on to say the police are taking stern measures to fight misinformation, expressing hope that more civil organisations will help ease the tensions.

Mr Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute, a non-governmental organisation focusing on advocacy and research on democracy and human rights, said at the discussion that the police's move to prevent disinformation is on the right track. The move includes the arrest of cyber groups Saracen and Muslim Cyber Army for deliberately spreading lies via social media.

He said the police had taken other preventive measures, including raising awareness in mosques regarding fake news. "However, the results are still lacking," Mr Hendardi, who goes by one name, said.

The Indonesian military said it has also prepared 9,600 personnel in Kalimantan to help the police improve security as the April 17 elections draw near.

Mulawarman Military District commander Major-General Subiyanto said the officers will guard border areas in Kalimantan that directly connect Malaysia's Sarawak and Sabah, as well as city and regency centres. "Samarinda, Banjarmasin and Balikpapan are our priority," he said.

Banjarmasin is the capital of South Kalimantan, which is also the most populated city in Indonesian Borneo.

Maj-Gen Subiyanto said cities in North Kalimantan, such as Tarakan and Tanjung Selor, are also being monitored.

THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2019, with the headline 'Indonesian police on high alert as elections approach'. Print Edition | Subscribe