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Jakarta Post

Yogyakartan charities report police intimidation, monitoring during COVID-19 relief efforts

  • Bambang Muryanto

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta   /   Wed, April 22, 2020   /   06:02 pm
Yogyakartan charities report police intimidation, monitoring during COVID-19 relief efforts Police officers apply physical distancing during a briefing at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout Area in Jakarta, on April 8, 2020. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

As citizens help low-income community members weather the COVID-19 outbreak, several civil society groups in Yogyakarta have reported police intimidation and excessive monitoring during their relief efforts.

A group called Jogja Food Solidarity (SPJ) said the police had been monitoring their distribution of food, facemasks, health supplements and hand sanitizer to low-income informal workers in Yogyakarta.

SPJ has opened 11 public kitchens in the city, including on Jl. Ngadiwinatan near Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat Palace, where volunteers gather to provide free food and other necessities for pedicab drivers, street vendors and sex workers, among others.

Ita Fatia Nadia, one of SPJ’s founders, said two police officers had come to their charity event on Jl. Ngadiwinatan last Thursday. “They asked us who initiated the event, who its donors were and where we were distributing the rice boxes. They also took photos of us,” she told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Ita said activists working at the kitchens did not answer the police officers. The officers soon left the location.

However, one of the officers, identified as Parto, returned to the charity event two days later and asked the same questions. “He took pictures of me without my permission. I replied that it violated my rights,” said Ita.

She later found out that the officer had not brought a letter of assignment. Ita asserted that no regulation required them to report charity events to the police during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Four other police officers came to an SPJ public kitchen in the Ambarketawang Permai housing complex in Gamping, Sleman, on Friday to disperse the volunteers.

“They initially thought the event would constitute a mass gathering. After we told them about the charity event, they understood,” said M. Taufiq Firdaus, a volunteer at the kitchen.

SPJ was not the only group in Yogyakarta whose charity events were raided by authorities. On Saturday, the police dispersed a meeting to evaluate a charity program held by activists from the Yogyakarta chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi Yogyakarta) in Kotagede.

The police argued that the activists had violated a mayoral decree that restricted residents from partaking in mass gatherings during the COVID-19 outbreak. The activists said the meeting had followed prescribed protocols.

After negotiating, the Walhi activists were allowed to continue the meeting until 10 p.m. However, at about 8:55, police officers – now accompanied by military personnel and dozens of residents – arrived at the Walhi office to disperse the meeting.

"Authorities should stop repressive actions against civil society's good intentions in the name of COVID-19 prevention," said Himawan Kurniadi of Walhi Yogyakarta.

SPJ’s Ita said she wrote an open letter to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Monday, demanding the President stop repressing such acts of solidarity during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ngampilan Police chief Adj. Comr. Hendro Wahyono, whose jurisdiction covers the location of SPJ’s public kitchens, dismissed the allegations of repression, saying the officers had taken preventive measures to anticipate unwanted occurrences.

"In the name of God, we didn't intimidate anyone. They could have actually asked for our help in distributing aid to society,” Hendro said.

Kotagede Police chief Comr. Dwi Tavianto denied that authorities dismissed the meeting at Walhi’s Yogyakarta office. “Residents reported that there was a social gathering at the location. We came to respond to the report.”

Yogyakarta has imposed a state of emergency from March 20 to May 29 in an effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the province. As of Wednesday, there were 75 confirmed cases, seven deaths and 75 recoveries in the province. (trn)