The Jakarta Post
Crackdowns on government critics, as well as pro-government propaganda on the internet, have severely limited online freedom in Indonesia, turning the once-safe refuge for public discourse into a restricted zone for expressing opinions, according to Freedom House's recent study.
The think tank’s Freedom on the Net 2020 report gives Indonesia an overall score of 49 on a scale of 0 to 100, classifying the country's internet freedom rank as “partly free” – a slight dip from last year’s overall rating of 51 and 54 in 2018.
The study noted that the government had taken authoritarian measures to stifle dissent across online platforms during a number of critical events taking place between June 1, 2019 and May 31, 2020.
Among the most drastic of such measures was the government-imposed internet restriction during a series of anti-racism protests in Papua and West Papua in August and September last year, under the pretext of curbing the spread of “misinformation” surrounding the civil unrest.
The internet blackout was later deemed unlawful by the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) as the policy was considered to be flawed in authority, substance and procedure.
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Furthermore, Freedom House also found that state agents had actively cracked down on online discourse considered to have contradicted the values espoused by the government.
“Critics of the government, journalists and ordinary users continued to face criminal charges and harassment in retaliation for their online activity,” the report reads.
Another threat to digital democracy in Indonesia over the past year has been the increasing presence of the so-called political “buzzers” reportedly deployed by the government to control and dominate public conversations regarding certain topics on the internet, the study noted.
“Content manipulation and disinformation continued to proliferate, often by paid commentators known as ‘buzzers’ or bots,” the report reads.
Graft watchdog Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) previously reported that President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration had budgeted Rp 90 billion (US$6.15 million) to involve so-called influencers for the government's digital activities since 2017.
The controversial Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law has also served as a convenient legal tool to prosecute citizens for expressing their views online, creating a culture of fear in which the public are made afraid to voice their concerns over certain topics, according to the report.
Critics have repeatedly called for the immediate reassessment of the provisions stipulated in the ITE Law, claiming that they were prone to abuse.
Freedom House cited as an example the case surrounding human rights lawyer Veronica Koman, who was named a suspect for having allegedly disseminated misinformation and inflicted race-based and ethnic hatred related to last year’s protests in Papua.
In a similar vein, activist Ravio Patra was arrested and briefly detained in April for purportedly broadcasting messages that encouraged fellow citizens to violently revolt against the government.
Civil society groups believed Ravio was the subject of a smear campaign that entailed the hacking of his WhatsApp account to spread such messages. (rfa)