Indonesian police probe alleged fake news factory's protest links

Syndicate 'spreading hoaxes for money' said to have played a role in anti-Ahok rally

Indonesian police are investigating alleged links between what they called a "fake news factory" and a handful of people believed to have played roles in protests against former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok.

This follows a recent crackdown on an Internet syndicate called "Saracen" which created numerous social media accounts to spread false news and information, and hate speech for "clients".

The police did not reveal who the suspects or their clients were.

The syndicate allegedly charged 70 million rupiah (S$7,132) for each project that involved publishing and spreading a series of hoaxes and hate speech.

According to a report in the Jakarta Post, the police said on Thursday that the syndicate is led by a 32-year-old man from Pekanbaru named Jasriadi, who is also behind online news portal

The news portal's Facebook page had 800,000 followers, but the number fell to 732,000 yesterday, a few days after Mr Jasriadi's arrest.

The website reportedly listed lawyer Eggi Sudjana and retired army general Ampi Tanudjiwa as advisers in its management structure.

Mr Eggi is widely known as the lawyer of cleric Rizieq Shihab, the leader of Islamic Defenders Front.

In December last year, the hardline Muslim group staged one of the country's largest rallies to protest against Basuki for allegedly insulting the Quran, by mobilising over 200,000 supporters in Jakarta.

Observers say the group played a key role in the election of former education minister Anies Baswedan over Basuki, a Chinese Christian, in the Jakarta gubernatorial elections in April.

Yesterday, police spokesman Awi Setiono said investigations against key suspects linked to Saracen are ongoing, and the police had collected evidence of how the group was structured.

"We will summon the people listed on to the station and let them clarify, tell us what happened," Colonel Awi told reporters.

Indonesia has seen online news portals emerge by the thousands every year. The number of such sites was recently recorded at 43,000. Only 234 of these sites are registered with the Press Council.

Professor Henri Subiakto, an adviser to the minister of communications and information, told Radio Elshinta yesterday that the government will do its utmost to identify the persons involved and prosecute them as well as the masterminds behind the syndicate.

Presidential spokesman Johan Budi said yesterday: "Anyone's freedom to upload and post comments must not hurt others, therefore they should be wise in using social media."

He added that Indonesian President Joko Widodo told police to not only prosecute those who published fake news and hate speech but also the clients who ordered them to do so.

Blogger Saefudin Achmad said: "They actively sent out postings with an intention to anger the Muslims who then felt offended by Ahok, and this prompted them to come to Jakarta to protest."

Blogger Tiza Hade added: "Police must find out who Saracen's clients are. Saracen would not have operated if it did not have clients. These clients should get heavier sanctions. That would be fair."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesian police probe alleged fake news factory's protest links'. Print Edition | Subscribe