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Jakarta Post

Speakers in '#PapuanLivesMatter' discussion hit by spam calls, Zoombombed in live event

  • Ghina Ghaliya
    Ghina Ghaliya

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, June 5, 2020   /   07:57 pm
Speakers in '#PapuanLivesMatter' discussion hit by spam calls, Zoombombed in live event A Zoom video conference. (Shutterstock/M. Moira)

A virtual discussion about human rights issues and the repression against Papuans' freedom of expression held by rights group Amnesty International Indonesia on Friday was bombarded by spammers, in the latest show of disturbance against Indonesian activists recently.

The video conference that started at around 1 p.m. was disturbed by unwanted intrusions, ranging from incoming spam calls to some of the speakers’ mobile phones from foreign numbers to "zoombombing", a type of cyberattack in which unknown users drop in on Zoom sessions, often uninvited, to disturb meetings.

At the beginning, the discussion went smoothly when the first and second speakers, Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid and Norman Voss of German-based International Coalition for Papua (ICP), respectively, explained briefly about human rights issues in the country's easternmost region and racism against native Papuans.

The spam calls started coming in when speaker Yuliana S. Yabansabra of rights organization Elsham Papua was about to give her statement.

"I am suddenly receiving phone calls from foreign numbers. They keep bothering me, "Yuliana said during the discussion, which was attended by The Jakarta Post.

Usman then said he was also receiving some calls from unknown numbers with the United States country code 1 as he showed the meeting participants the screen of his phone that kept ringing.

"This has not stopped. I think Uli [Yuliana] and I have been harassed by calls from the US. The numbers are different but they are constant," he said.

He told the Post he had received dozens of phone calls, even until the discussion ended at around 3 p.m.

In a number of screenshots sent to the Post, he showed the locations from which the calls were made. Among them are cities in several areas in the US, such as Cordova, Dubuque, Blackstone and Lansing as well as Whistler in Canada.

“I’ve been receiving these calls from the beginning of the discussion until now."

Read also: ‘#PapuanLivesMatter’: George Floyd’s death hits close to home in Indonesia

While saying that he had experienced "worse situations", Usman said the repeated spam calls were very disturbing. "This is similar to Ravio's case."

Usman referred to a case of harassment against independent researcher and government critic Ravio Patra, who was detained and accused of inciting riots through a WhatsApp message following an alleged hacking of his account in April.

Another speaker, Tigor G. Hutapea of Yayasan Pusaka Bentala Rakyat, also received spam calls during the session.

In addition to spam calls, the discussion, which used the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter was also disturbed by Zoombombers as a number of uninvited attendees intruded the event by making noises.

“This has actually happened in the last few months to some people. Many Papuans as well as activists and scholars have been harassed. They have been terrorized through technology," Usman said, "I think it means that what we are doing is right. We must continue to defend human rights for Papuans."

In the event, Amnesty International Indonesia reported its latest study for the United Nations titled "Civil and Political Rights Violations in Papua and West Papua".

The organization also discussed some cases of human rights violations against Papuans, including the government-imposed internet blackout during weeks of protests in the restive regions last year, which has been declared unlawful by the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN).

Cyber terrors have apparently become a common practice of what many have called “terror against government critics” lately, apart from a number of arrests allegedly carried out without proper procedure.

In a recent case, students and professors at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University (UGM) and the Indonesian Islamic University (UII) had their social media and WhatsApp accounts hacked after planning to organize an online discussion about the constitutional mechanism for removing a president from office. They also received death threats and other forms of intimidation

Tempo newspaper editor-in-chief Budi Setyarso said on Sunday that he also had his Instagram and Facebook accounts “hacked” while he was moderating an online discussion with Ravio and the dean of the UGM School of Law.