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Jakarta Post

Government critic faces incitement charges after WhatsApp hacked

  • Ghina Ghaliya
    Ghina Ghaliya

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, April 23, 2020   /   06:09 pm
Government critic faces incitement charges after WhatsApp hacked Illustration of phone hacking. (Shutterstock/Morrowind)

An independent researcher who has been critical of the government on social media is facing incitement charges after a message calling for nationwide riots on April 30 was broadcast from his WhatsApp account, which he says was hacked.

His arrest has elicited protests from a coalition of human rights groups who believe that Ravio Patra, the researcher in question, was a victim of identity theft and should not be arrested or prosecuted.  

Ravio, who has been critical of how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, was arrested between 09:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, shortly after he had announced that his WhatsApp had been hacked on his Twitter account, @raviopatra.

The human rights coalition believed that the WhatsApp hacking was an attempt to frame Ravio Patra as a provocateur advocating for nationwide riots on April 30. Labor groups have previously threatened to protest the omnibus bill on job creation on the same date despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coalition demanded that President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and the National Police release the man, who they believed was innocent, without charges.

"The police should have arrested those who hacked Ravio's number and spread the hoax using his WhatsApp, not him,” the coalition said in a statement.

The coalition includes the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), Amnesty International Indonesia and the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (IJCR).

The police have confirmed Ravio’s arrest, saying that he has been accused of inciting riots through social media but that they are still investigating the case. 

According to the coalition, SAFEnet received a report from Ravio at about 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday that someone had hacked his WhatsApp account after he saw a notification stating that his number had been registered on another phone and a One Time Password (OTP) had been requested, despite the fact that he had applied two-way verification and enabled fingerprint identification on his WhatsApp account.

Ravio had also received calls from 082167672001, 081226661965 and numbers with Malaysian and United States area codes. The coalition said that the numbers belonged to two police personnel, identified as AKBP HS and Col. ATD.

After hacking Ravio’s WhatsApp account, the coalition said, the hacker broadcast messages at about 02:35 p.m. to unknown numbers that read, "The crisis is already aflame. Come together and join us on April 30 for nationwide looting. All nearby shops are free to be looted."

Fears of nationwide riots have grown after the police claimed to have received information that an obscure group called Anarcho Syndicalist was planning to instigate riots throughout Java on April 18, a few days after the government imposed a partial lockdown in the capital on April 10. Activists, however, have doubts about the police's claims.

Rumors of a possible riot resurfaced after labor groups said they would hold a massive protest against the omnibus bill on job creation and risk contracting the coronavirus on April 30 to stop lawmakers from passing the bill. 

The police said they would not allow the rallies to take place as they would violate partial lockdown measures in Greater Jakarta. 

The coalition said that two hours after the announcement on his Twitter account, Ravio had reported at 07:00 p.m. that he was able to control his WhatsApp. However, a few minutes later, he reported that he was told by his boarding house guard that someone was looking for him and had left.

Ravio also had reported that he was preparing to go to a safe house around midnight. The coalition has not been able to reach him since then.

At the same time, around 12:30 a.m. on Thursday, the website seword.com published an article stating that Ravio was “a person who provoked national looting on April 30” with screenshots of the messages.

"On Thursday morning around 08:00 a.m., SAFEnet received a report that Ravio had been arrested last night by police intelligence in front of the safe house," the coalition stated.

For the last three years, Ravio has been Indonesia's representative in the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee (SC OGP). He recently criticized presidential special staffer Billy Mambrasar for having a conflict of interest in the government projects in Papua.