Activist charged over insult to military

Robertus Robet was briefly detained after video emerged online of him singing a protest song criticising a plan to put senior military officials in civilian government positions.
Robertus Robet was briefly detained after video emerged online of him singing a protest song criticising a plan to put senior military officials in civilian government positions.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE/JAKARTANCIUS

JAKARTA • Indonesia has charged a rights activist with insulting the country's military, sparking a protest from campaigners who derided it as "ludicrous" and an attack on free speech.

Robertus Robet was briefly detained early on Thursday after a video emerged online of him singing a protest song criticising a plan to put senior military officials in civilian government positions, comparing it to the days of Indonesia's late dictator Suharto.

The university lecturer, who is also a well-known rights campaigner, was released and subsequently charged under a law that makes it illegal to insult public institutions. The maximum penalty is 18 months in jail.

"What he said was not in line with the facts and discrediting an institution without facts and evidence is dangerous," national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said yesterday.

However, campaigners derided the move.

"This is a blatant and ludicrous attempt to intimidate and silence Robertus for his peaceful criticism of the military," Amnesty International Indonesia's executive director Usman Hamid said in a statement. "He is an academic who is guilty of nothing more than voicing his views over proposals to place senior military officers in positions of power within the government."

The case centres on Robet singing a popular song at a weekly human rights protest in Jakarta last week, with the lyrics altered in a way that allegedly made fun of the military.

 

He has since apologised. "It was a popular song during the 1998 student movement which was meant to criticise the military then, not now," Robet said in a separate video released on social media before his arrest.

Suharto's three decades of military dictatorship - infamous for its widespread corruption - crumbled in 1998 amid street protests as the collapsing economy was hit hard by the Asian financial crisis.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2019, with the headline 'Activist charged over insult to military'. Print Edition | Subscribe