As a republic of constitutional democracy, Indonesia is no stranger to demonstrations and protests from their public. However, the issues that are being brought up in the demonstrations consists mainly of the price increase of basic commodities, from food to gas prices. Religion-themed protests are the next popular subject for protests, such as the 212 rally or protests showing support for Palestine’s independence. Other protests about human rights, environmental issue, corruption or anything against governmental institutions are not as popular as the former, contrary to the types of protests that made the news on Western media. However, it does not mean that those issues are nonexistent in Indonesia – the internet is buzzing when any of those issues rose to fame. One of the most recent example being people’s dissatisfaction with police’s performance, resulting in the hashtag #PercumaLaporPolisi, that translates to “It’s useless to report to the police”. What does it mean, and what are the consequences of online protests? Let’s do a deeper look.
The ‘Disappointment for Police’ movement, #PercumaLaporPolisi
On my previous blog post, I wrote about Bjorka, an infamous cybercriminal / hacktivist from September 2022. That case, while potentially damaging the nation’s cybersecurity, is left open until now. The latest update mentioned (Septiani, 2022) that the data leak was still being investigated, but they found that most of it seems to be general information – thus it did not really classify as data breach. Just several days ago, an amateur pornography video case (Maulidini, 2022) went viral, and the cyber police shifted their focus straight away to unveiling the people behind it, and caught the people involved in it just within several days. But why would they focus on such thing, when they have other more important cases to solve? Well, since this question is missing an official answer, I will leave it to people’s logical interpretation – but it is yet another reason why people are disappointed by the work of the police in Indonesia.
The hashtag #PercumaLaporPolisi started with a case where a mother in Sulawesi reported a rape case involving her three kids as a victim – to a police officer. However, instead of getting their case investigated, she got dismissed. She then got help from Project Multatuli as shown in this report (Fadhila, 2021), and that’s when people started showing their support through the hashtag. The hashtag also shows injustice behavior people have faced when they needed to made contact with the police. Another case that came to spotlight was when a mother reported a sexual harassment case to the police, but the police told her to catch the perpetrator herself (Ihsannudin, 2021). And if it is not bad enough, this year another police case went viral when a high-rank police general named Ferdy Sambo (Reuters, 2022) allegedly accused of shooting his own “police aide”, a lower-rank police officer, to death, in a much-dramatized police scandal. Police blunders of the use of teargas has also deemed to be the cause of the football match stampede tragedy in Kanjuruhan, Malang (Chairil, 2022). Until now, they are still investigating the case, and has denied any responsibility for any of those cases. This charade of police cases keeps on coming and the Indonesian citizen can only shake their head. According to Tufekci (2017, p.26), twitter has created a digital public sphere, which shows people’s preferences in terms of the issues they are supporting, which might be why the hashtag is trending again on twitter from time to time. But with no important case seems to be solved and yet more ridiculous stuff made the news, the National Police of Indonesia has gotten a lower number of public confidence. In a survey done by LSI (Indonesian Survey Body), the police turned out to be the least trusted law enforcement agency in Indonesia (Guritno, 2022).
The police responded with #PolriSesuaiProsedur
Strangely enough, even with all those open cases, they have time to campaign for another hashtag (Damarjati, 2021) that translates to “We (the police) works according to the procedure”. This received much negative feedback from journalists and communication experts. Why would they just create a new hashtags instead of doing a good job and restore people’s trust in them again?
Now, the question is – why isn’t there more people protesting the police work on the street, if ithe situation is that bad?
According to Tufekci (2017, p. 131), street protests does not necessarily have more power than online acts. Technology has provided a way for more people to participate in the issues they are supporting about, and hashtag #PercumaLaporPolisi is an example of how people are protesting and voicing their concerns online, by sharing their bad experience with the police. Grecya and Yahya, (2022, p. 57), also mentioned that the “no viral no justice” phenomenon is a form of social control to build civic engagement overseeing the police’s performance.
However, there are some informal yet popular response from the people online, indicating that if you dare criticize a government institution, then they will come for you. The phrase varies, one of it is called “didatengin tukang bakso” which was a popular phenomenon during the New Order regime – a food street vendor will “patrol” in front of your house, notoriously with a walkie talkie, to report on all your movement – as in you are being watched. Other similar replies are “you will no longer get internet connection” or “watch out for some police patrols next to your house”. An example of these type of replies can be seen in this tweet:
Sekedar mengingatkan mas 👌 pic.twitter.com/4sa1zFO58Z
— Boedax Bageur (@SyaefullRamadh1) October 11, 2022
Tukang bakso memantau, meaning that the bakso (a type of street food) vendor is watching you.
Judging from that example, it is normal that people will be scared to protest about the police, even if it’s meant as a joke. This phenomenon alone is haunting the freedom of speech in Indonesia, as if there is a censorship to what you are writing on twitter. In relation to this, there was a case at the editorial office of investigative journalist agency ‘Narasi’ in October 2022, where they had their social media and personal messenger apps hacked (Aji, 2022). Coincidentally, this hacking happened shortly after Najwa Shihab, notable journalist made a critique about the police. This case potentially showed that making critiques to government instances are becoming more and more dangerous.
To top it off, yesterday, the government announced the draft for the criminal code (RKUHP), which state that one could face 18 months of jail punishment for offending government institution (Saputra, 2022). This just made it worse for freedom of speech in Indonesia. Tufekci (2017, p.99) mentioned that protesters take part because they desire to have a voice and have lost faith in delegating responsibility to others to act for them. For these cases in Indonesia, the internet seems to be the best solution to act, considering the benefits and harm from doing an offline protest. If they know that even online protest could risk such consequences, why risk their life over the cause?
Indonesia’s so-called democracy
Democracy started to get recognition in Indonesia from 1998, after 32 years of being under the dictatorship of Soeharto, former army chief turned President. Soeharto allegedly took over the power from the first President of Indonesia, Soekarno, in 1966 and then created nation-wide propaganda (Laveda, 2021) surrounding the power switch. His tenure, the New Order regime, is notorious for making people who were about to criticize his presidency ‘disappear’ or intimidated and watched by the presence of those infamous street food vendor nearby. Then came the strong wave of rebellion following the Asian financial crisis around 1997-1998, causing Soeharto to lose his throne over people’s power. College students were considered the most powerful voice at that time, but at a cost, as some of them lost their lives (Ardha and Elston, 2022) due to how violent the protest was, followed by some irresponsible action by the law enforcement. Sadly until now, there has not been any justice for those victims – no thorough investigation nor any trial for them.
— Bukan Untung PKI (@vantoni20) October 11, 2022
“Yesterday someone posted something like this, the next day he’s gone”, while showing the image of smiling President Soeharto
Following the tragedy, there have been several offline protests by the family member of the victims and some human rights activists, followed by the hashtag #menolaklupa or “refuse to forget” on twitter, but it surely was not the biggest protest this country could have done. It is as if there were just too many other things happening, that they lost focus on what is important. A similar phenomenon was mentioned by Tufekci (2017, p. 39-40), “On the internet, the problem is not too little information… rather there is too much information, and there is often little guidance for sorting through it. There is too much content competing for attention, and it is hard to tell if it is verified from false news or misinformation”.
Back to the topic of freedom of speech and democracy, those memories have always been haunting Indonesians, especially those growing up in the new order regime. They always have lived in fear that the government is watching them, and it might still be true. Even I am now afraid of writing such post, however academic the purpose is. It brings me to one of Tufekci’s statement on her book – “I first censor myself, as I know I’ll be in trouble if I write something critical of the government” (2017, p. 33). Protests should not be as dangerous, especially on the internet, but apparently it could be. In the end, you get to choose your own battle, but is it worth protesting?
The situation might not look good at all at the moment for the National Police of Indonesia. With all these cases, they really have let the people of Indonesia down again and again. But I do have to say that personally, I feel hopeful for them. It will take a long and demanding work for them to restore the people’s trust in them, but with better technology, increased quality of police education and digitalization, the outcome might be positive. A good example for it is that they are no longer allowed to issue manual tickets, only digital, as reported by Kurniawan (2022). Heeks (2017 p. 127-130) mentioned in his book that the implementation of ICT for development would be successful if a lot of factors are specifically designed for it and that it undergoes evaluation as it is implemented. When they decided to truly change for the better and taking constructive criticism, I believe it will significantly reduce people’s distrust for the police.
As for democracy and freedom of speech in general, similar sentiments (Aljazeera, 2020) are also heard from other countries (Michaelson, 2022), where the government are trying to oppress people’s voice from going international (Human Rights Watch, 2022), or from making any critiques that could jeopardize the name of the government. While this might sound like an even stronger reason to start protesting, the reality is not always that easy. The threats received by those daring to speak their voice is sadly intimidating enough to silence them. For this case, I can only hope that they instead become inspired by successful transparent governance and took the critique to be able to perform better, instead of silencing and threatening people.
Reflections on the blog assignment
I really did enjoy writing for this blog. The theme that our group chose is interesting, and it allows us to write around such broad yet interesting stories from all around the world. However, I feel that it was a bit of a challenge to connect the dot from “communicating development” to “activism”. Is activism part of development, and if it is, how does it contribute for development, as in ICT4D? Would it be considered ICT4D when it comes to voicing human rights in the already-developed countries? Does it fit the picture just because the said protests happened or revolved around developing countries? Overall, I am satisfied with the selection of articles from our group, and I feel that it raised awareness of different issues happening in different parts of the world. The group has also been very supportive of each other, and each of our expertise has helped us towards shaping a great blog and the journey has been wonderful. I could not have asked for a better group to do this exercise with.
Apart from all the assignments I have done for this master program, I would consider this the most exciting– as it is the most relatable task to do as a communicator in this rapidly developing digital media world. Of course there are the needs to be able to produce a coherent academic text for a publication, but in terms of communicating to the general public, this exercise is much needed. The experience gotten from writing the content of the blog post would certainly be usable and applicable in the future, should I ever decide to pursue the career in communications and international development in the future.
Al Jazeera. (2020, October) https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/5/3/journalism-has-become-a-crime-in-egypt-amnesty-international
Aji, M.R. (2022, September 27). Cyberattack on Critical Media Narasi a Serious Human Rights Violation: KKJ. Tempo. https://en.tempo.co/read/1638739/cyberattack-on-critical-media-narasi-a-serious-human-rights-violation-kkj
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Tufekci, Z. (2017). Twitter and tear gas: The power and fragility of networked protest. Yale University Press.