President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s commitment to freedom of speech has come under scrutiny following the arrest of several antigovernment figures last week over alleged treason.
Jokowi won praise for his bold move to take part in mass prayers last Friday with thousands of Muslims who demanded the imprisonment of blasphemy suspect and incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.
Hours earlier, the police had arrested 11 people accused of attempting to mobilize a movement to overthrow the government by utilizing the large-scale rally.
On Saturday, the National Police released eight of the suspects, including activist Ratna Sarumpaet and musician-turned-politician Ahmad Dhani.
Former anti-Soeharto activist Sri Bintang Pamungkas, 71, and two siblings, Jamran and Rizal, remain in detention.
Another suspect, Alvin Indra, was only announced by the police in a press conference on Saturday.
Most of the suspects were charged under articles 107, 110 and 87 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) on treason and conspiracy to commit treason.
Sri Bintang was also charged under the 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law for hate speech.
In a video uploaded to YouTube, he was seen encouraging dozens of people to demand that the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) overthrow Jokowi.
“If [we all] unite, let’s go together and demand the MPR revoke Jokowi’s mandate as president,” Sri Bintang said in the video.
Jamran and Rizal were also charged with the 2008 law as the police claimed they had actively spread hate speech and provocation on the internet ahead of the Dec. 2 rally.
National Police spokesperson Insp. Gen. Boy Rafli denied that the arrests were arbitrary or aimed at silencing government critics.
“There is a clear line of distinction between delivering criticism and attempting to conspire and provoke people to commit treason,” Boy said on Saturday.
“[In this case] treason was [the action of those] who used their freedom to spread provocative ideas that could create a reaction, mislead people and drive public opinion,” he added.
He claimed the police had solid grounds to name them suspects, based on evidence including a “handwritten document and electronic evidence that recorded a conversation among the suspects”.
One of the suspects, activist Firza Husein, is the chairwoman of the Cendana Friend Solidarity Movement (SSC), an organization that reveres former president Soeharto.
Cyberlaw expert Megi Margiyono urged the authorities to be prudent and cautious in handling the cases, citing people’s freedom of expression, which is protected under the 1945 Constitution and international laws, including the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Don’t make the public negatively assume that this is an attempt [by the authorities] to silence those who strongly criticize the government,” he told The Jakarta Post.
Similarly, Asep Komarudin of the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers) viewed the arrests as a threat to freedom of expression.
“It’s bad for the public image of the President and the government. Government intelligence should have waited for them to take concrete action before arresting them,” he told the Post.
Asep said treason charges in the Criminal Code had been loosely used by the government in the past to silence government critics.
Under the New Order regime, Indonesia saw numerous activists who opposed Soeharto charged with treason. Since the Reform Era, treason has been mostly reserved for Papuan activists and terror suspects.
Constitutional expert Refly Harun, however, said it was “right” for the police to make the arrests as a preventive action.
“However, the authorities should ensure they uphold the rule of law and have strong evidence,” he said.
Boy suggested that labor activists may have also planned to use the rally to launch a treason plot.
“We are now investigating whether [labor activists] also had a treason plot,” he said.
8 treason suspects
• Rachmawati Soekarnoputri: The daughter of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno often takes a different stance to her sister, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman and former president Megawati Soekarnoputri. In 2002, Rachmawati founded the Pioneers’ Party before joining the NasDem Party, which is led by media mogul and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s confidant Surya Paloh.
• Firza Husain: Jakarta Police investigators arrested the activist at the Sari Pan Pacific Hotel in Central Jakarta. She reportedly has a close relationship with the once-powerful “Cendana” family, which refers to the family of Indonesia’s second president Soeharto.
• Kivlan Zen: The 69-year-old retired two-star Army general was known as a staunch supporter of Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto during the 2014 presidential election. Since his retirement from the Army, Kivlan has often been involved in political activities.
• Sri Bintang Pamungkas: Sri Bintang, 71, is best known for his political activities during the authoritarian regime of Soeharto, when he was once jailed for treason. In 1996, he founded the United Democratic Indonesia Party, which garnered a mere 0.13 percent of votes during the 1999 general election.
• Ratna Sarumpaet: The actress-turned-activist has frequently made headlines for her fierce criticism of Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama’s policies. The mother of actress Atiqah Hasiholan is also known to be vocal on social media.
• Adityawarman Thaha: The retired Army general is a renowned counterterrorism expert. As chairman of the Indonesian Muslim Students’ Family Association between 2011 and 2015, Adityawarman is also known for his close relationship with conservative Muslim groups. He was Prabowo’s supporter in the 2014 presidential race.
• Eko Suryo Santjojo: Eko was the secretary-general of Rachmawati’s Pioneers’ Party. Eko has a master’s degree in law and is a member of the rector’s council of the Rachmawati-led Bung Karno University (UBK) in Jakarta.
• Alvin Indra: Little is known about Alvin, whose status as a suspect in the alleged treason plot was only revealed on Saturday. Circulating rumors have suggested he is a labor activist.
Source: The Jakarta Post