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Jakarta Post

KAMI activists' WhatsApp chats in Medan show plan to incite riots 'like 1998': Police

  • Moch. Fiqih Prawira Adjie and Belseran Christ

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta and Ambon   /   Fri, October 16, 2020   /   02:52 pm
KAMI activists' WhatsApp chats in Medan show plan to incite riots 'like 1998': Police Students participate in a protest against the controversial Job Creation Law under the Pasar Rebo flyover in East Jakarta on Oct 7, 2020. In the rally the students burned tires and unfurled protest banners emblazoned with messages to the House of Representatives and the government. (JP/P.J.Leo)

The National Police have revealed an alleged plot to incite riots by four people affiliated with the Save Indonesia Coalition (KAMI) in Medan, North Sumatra, who were recently arrested amid the wave of nationwide protests against the controversial Job Creation Law.

The four activists, the group’s Medan chairman Khairil Amri and members identified as JG, NZ, WRP, were arrested between Oct. 9 and Monday for allegedly spreading information that instigated hatred and hostility based on tribal affiliations, religion, race and societal groups (SARA).

In Thursday’s press conference, National Police spokesperson Argo Yuwono said police detectives had discovered conversations in a WhatsApp group the four were part of, as evidence that the activists had conspired to incite riots.

For instance, JG allegedly said in one of the conversations that members should create a scenario similar to the 1998 May riots that exploded in Jakarta nearing the downfall of Soeharto’s regime, the police claimed.

The riots resulted in nearly 1,200 deaths, with dozens of reported rape and sexual violence cases of Chinese-Indonesian women, looting in malls and grocery stores and hundreds of buildings, shop-houses and houses set on fire.

“[JG] said ‘make the scenario like 1998’, ‘looting shops and houses of Chinese’ and ‘include thugs in the looting’,” Argo said on Thursday.

According to the police, Khairil allegedly instructed the people in the group to “gather witnesses to pelt the House of Representatives members and police officers" and to send pictures of rocks and the House’s building with the caption “guaranteed as a complete nest of thieves and demons”.

WRP also allegedly asked the members to carry Molotov cocktails during one of the protests.

Read also: Arrest of KAMI activists criticized as attempt to suppress freedom of expression

Argo said the police would use the WhatsApp conversations as evidence, in addition to a Molotov cocktail they seized during one of the protests, mobile phones and a sum of money amounting to Rp 500,000 (US$33.87) allegedly used to fund the logistics for the rallies.

The police charged the four KAMI activists under Article 28 of the 2016 Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law on spreading fake news and hate speech and Article 160 of the Criminal Code on instigating criminal conduct. With the charges, the activists could face a maximum of six years' imprisonment.

In addition to the four, authorities also arrested four KAMI activists in Jakarta between Saturday and Tuesday.

KAMI itself has condemned the arrest of its affiliates, saying they perceived it as “repressive action” that was “politically motivated”.

The passage of the Job Creation Law on Oct. 5 sparked waves of protests in the country, with the police noting that by Oct. 8, protests had occurred in all 34 provinces of the country. The demonstrations have continued for two weeks so far. 

In Jakarta, the police arrested on Tuesday 1,377 people after a peaceful protest turned into riots in some parts of the capital city. All but one, who was detained after being caught in possession of a slingshot, had been released as of Thursday, tribunnews.com reported.

Meanwhile, the police in Ambon, Maluku, arrested 13 Pattimura University students who participated in a protest rejecting the controversial law on Monday. Two of the students, identified as MR and HS, were named suspects for allegedly being behind the riots that ensued in the Ir. Putuhena street in the city.

The arrest of the 13 students prompted a protest from other students united under the Ambon chapter of the United Front of Indonesian Muslim Students (KAMMI) who demanded the former's release on Tuesday, saying that the arrested "were not involved in vandalism or clashes" in Monday's protest.