Asia in Review Archive (2019)


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03 September 2019

Disinformation, violence, and anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia’s 2019 elections

(ls) An interesting piece from ISEAS takes a look at the violence that broke out in Indonesia on 21-23 May 2019, which, according to the author, marks the world’s first instance of online disinformation leading to election-related riots. The author describes how a disinformation cascade followed the opposition’s claim that the election had been stolen by incumbent president Jokowi. Framed by this narrative, social media platforms saw a large spike in the volume of anti-Chinese disinformation. [ISEAS]

03 September 2019

Indonesia: Jakarta sends more security forces as violence continues in Papua

(ls/td) Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua provinces continue to grapple with incidents of violent unrest. In Papua’s provincial capital Jayapura, protesters torched a local parliament office, a building housing the offices of a state-controlled telecoms firm and cars parked on the street. More than 1,000 people took part in the protest. On Monday, one student was killed. Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda called for the United Nations to act on the crisis. [The Guardian] [Straits Times 1]

At least two civilians and one soldier have been killed in the remote district of Deiyai. However, information coming from the region is difficult to gather as an internet blackout remains in place. The government claims this is to stop the spread of misinformation and “hoaxes”. [ABC News]

The Indonesian government has sent 2,500 police officers and soldiers to confront the violence and restore order in Jayapura. 1,500 security forces had already been deployed in West Papua, which is the neighbouring province to Papua, the week before. [Straits Times 2]

For about two weeks, thousands of people have taken to the streets across Indonesia’s easternmost territory for protests believed to have been initially sparked by racist comments made towards Papuan students in Surabaya over allegations of a damaged flagpole. [AiR No. 35, August/2019, 4]

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16 July 2019

Indonesia: President Widodo promises economic reforms and “millennials” as ministers

(ls/kj) After having won the presidential election earlier this year, Indonesian President Joko Widodo vowed to implement a wave of reforms to attract foreign investment. He announced to quickly lower corporate taxes, ease stringent labor laws and lift curbs on foreign ownership in more industries. Indonesia’s economy grew about 5% in recent years, short of the 7% the president targeted ahead of his first term. Widodo apparently tries to reassure investors as the election aftermath saw the deadliest political violence in Jakarta in two decades after runner-up Prabowo Subianto’s supporters took to the streets to protest. [Bloomberg]

Last week, Widodo and Prabowo Subianto also publicly put their differences aside and sought reconciliation. They met on a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train, which was newly inaugurated in Jakarta. [BBC]

Widodo also announced his intentions to involve young people in key governmental positions. The plan is a specimen of the international trend of millennials increasingly being appointed to governmental roles. Malaysia, for example, has appointed 25-year-old Syed Saddiq for its Youth and Sports Minister. [Channel News Asia] [The Jakarta Post]

9 July 2019

Indonesia’ environment: Country rejects to be turned in a dumping ground/Jakarta residents sue government over air pollution

(cl/jk) Indonesian officials announced to crack down on trash imported from the world’s richest countries after an increase of toxic waste ‘exported’ to the country. Port authorities have boosted checks after a random inspection in May led to the discovery of more than 80 containers containing illegal waste from the US, Australia and Europe, with the US being the worst offender. [Bloomberg] Now, tougher counter measures are planned. China’s restrictions and bans on imports on environmental grounds led the Indonesian authorities tighten their monitoring process. [World News]

Indonesia’s more stringent environmental policies follow a trend among neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia. Last month, Malaysia announced to send back more than 3,000 tonnes of scrap plastics back to countries including Australia, Japan, and China followed in June by the Philippines returning dozens of illegal containers of waste back to Canada. [Independent] [Guardian]

Environmental standards in Jakarta remain, however, in the spotlight. Now, residents filed a lawsuit against the government over the toxic levels of air pollution. [CNN News] Jakarta has been shrouded in hazardous smog for much of the past month with air quality readings recording high concentrations of harmful microscopic particles. As a response, the head of Jakarta’s environment agency denied that Jakarta had the world’s worst air pollution citing lower government figures that used a different methodology of measurement. [Guardian]

Several times last month, Jakarta was ranked as the most polluted city in the world, sparking a storm of social media criticism. [Aljazeera] Air Visual, an independent online air quality index monitor, pegged the air in Jakarta at the “very unhealthy” level of 231 on some days in June, higher than notoriously polluted cities like New Delhi and Beijing. Environment groups blame the air pollution on vehicle fumes, smoke and emissions from coal-fired power plants that ring greater Jakarta. [The Daily Star]

9 July 2019

Indonesia’s Supreme Court upholds jail sentence for woman who reported sexual harassment

(cl) Indonesia’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal and jailed a woman who tried to report her employer for alleged sexual harassment, finding her guilty of violating the strict anti-pornography laws and overturning her acquittal by a lower court. [The Washington Post] The woman had complained of getting lewd phone calls from the principal of a high school where she worked, resulting in the principal losing his job. Subsequently, in 2015, the principal reported her to the police, leading to her conviction. The ruling is criticized for opening wide a door for perpetrators of sexual violence to criminalise their victims. [BBC News] [Jakarta Post]

The woman’s legal team can hope now only for an amnesty from the president after having exhausted all other legal avenues. Although President Joko Widodo previously suggested the woman could seek clemency from him if she did not find justice through the judicial channels, a spokesman for the President’s office now declined to comment on the ruling. [New Straits Times]

2 July 2019

Terrorism: Attack at Philippine military base; arrests in Indonesia

(cl/ls) According to the Philippines Army, the bomb that killed eight people at a military base in southern Philippines on Friday was likely a suicide bombing. [Arab News] The prime suspect is Abu Sayyaf, a militant group that President Duterte had vowed to crush after decades of banditry, kidnapping and countless attacks on civilian and military targets. Radical factions of Abu Sayyaf have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, who through its news agency, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying its fighters had infiltrated the base. [Rappler]

If these suspicions are confirmed, this would be the Philippines’ third suicide bombing in a year, which all occurred in Abu Sayyaf’s stronghold and includes a twin bombing of a church in January. In response, the director has stepped up security and policing efforts in Metro Manila, placing the entire region under a “full alert status” despite detecting no threats within the national capital. [Philippine Star]

In Indonesia, a man believed to be the top leader of the Southeast Asia terror group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) was arrested in a West Java province after a 16-year long hunt. [Straits Times] The JI network is affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The network was behind Indonesia’s most deadly attack in Bali in 2002 and the 2009 attacks on the JW Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta. [The Diplomat]

Although the group was initially believed to have been decimated in Indonesia following a series of operations by security agencies, counter-terrorism experts had warned that young militants were being recruited and hat the JI network in the country may have expanded to become a 200-strong force.

Moreover, Indonesian police have arrested a member of the Muslim Cyber Army, a self-proclaimed cyber-jihadist network, for spreading fake news and hate speech via social media. [South China Morning Post]

2 July 2019

Indonesia: Constitutional Court upholds President Widodo’s victory over Prabowo in April election

(cl/ls) Prabowo Subianto lost his bid to overturn the result of the presidential election after the nation’s Constitutional Court on Thursday unanimously rejected allegations of “systematic electoral fraud”. [New York Times] In the nine-hour session, the nine-judge panel described many of the allegations – including vote buying and that biased civil servants favoured “Jokowi” – as baseless. The court further questioned the credibility of witnesses and quality of evidence, stating that Prabowo’s legal team’s submissions comprised mostly photographs and scans of vote tally forms from unclear sources. [Bloomberg]

In a speech following the ruling, the president called for all Indonesians to unite, regardless of their different political preferences, to advance the country. While Prabowo stated that he accepts the outcome, he has expressed his intention to search for more options by consulting his legal team on “whether there are still other legal and constitutional steps [he] might be able to take”. [The Guardian]

With the court’s final and binding decision, the president and his vice-president are set to take office in October. Prabowo has said that he is open to striking a deal with the president to ensure that his party becomes part of the government, and has also flagged that he might be running for presidency again in 2024. [South China Morning Post]

A day before the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the Supreme Court had alreacy rejected a lawsuit by Prabowo’s campaign team against the Elections Supervisory Agency’s (Bawaslu) ruling on alleged election campaign violations. [Jakarta Post]


11 June 2019

Alleged hitman names former Indonesian army general as mastermind of assassination plot

(cl) A hitman allegedly hired to assassinate four high-profile state officials during riots in Jakarta last month has named former army general as the mastermind of the plot. One of the suspects apprehended said the murder plot was hatched during a casual discussion at a restaurant in North Jakarta. In response, the former army general has denied the accusation. He is, however, in custody for offences over illegal arms and treason in conjunction with rallies held last month to call for the Indonesian President Widodo to be disqualified from the presidential race. [Tempo]

The alleged plot, aimed at destabilising the country, was first exposed by the national police on May 27th after they arrested 6 suspects who they said were linked to the riots. The unrest followed the announcement on May 21st by the elections commission that Mr Widodo had won the April 17th election over his old rival. 8 people died and more than 700 injured. The national police said that the street violence was a deliberate and coordinated strike, planned through WhatsApp. [The Jakarta Post]

11 June 2019

Failed suicide attack in Indonesia

(cl) An Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sympathiser carrying explosives around his waist was the only casualty of a failed suicide bombing outside a police post in the Indonesian province of Central Java. The attacker is thought to be a lone-wolf terrorist, and there were no indications yet that he was working with a terror cell or network. [The Jakarta Post]

However, the blast occurred on Monday, just two days ahead of Hari Raya, and bears striking similarities to a series of attacks that had occurred during public holidays. On the eve of Hari Raya in 2016, a suicide bomber attacked a police station in Central Java, killing himself and injuring an officer. On the first day of Hari Raya in 2017, a policeman on sentry duty was stabbed to death by two assailants. In 2018, four men reportedly preparing for terror attacks during Ramadan and Hari Raya were shot dead in West Java by counter-terrorism troops. Since these attacks, National Police chief has called on officers on duty during the long holiday period to remain vigilant to prevent terrorist attacks. [Straits Times]

4 June 2019

Indonesia hopes to revive army special unit’s training in US

(cl) The US Defence Secretary met with Indonesian Defence Minister last week, with the latter expressing hope that the Indonesian army’s special forces unit can be trained again in the United States in the near future. [Jakarta Post] The US had previously suspended cooperation with the Indonesia military in 1998 following reports of beatings, kidnappings and other abuses committed by it. The 1997 Leahy Law prohibits U.S. military assistance to the security forces of a foreign country that commits gross violations of human rights. In 2005, the US lifted the ban on cooperation with Indonesian military units except its army’s special forces unit, which has been accused by multiple international human rights organisations of many human rights abuses, including the anti-Chinese rioting that led to the fall of former President Suharto. During the conference, US Defence Secretary stated that the US has agreed to help Indonesia counter terrorism and radicalism. [Kyodo News]

4 June 2019

Indonesia: Jakarta’s residences sue government for better air quality

(cl) Grouped under the Capital Advocacy Team and represented by the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta), residents are set to file a citizen lawsuit against the government to the Central Jakarta District Court for the polluted air in Jakarta. A representative stated that they would like to push the government to take action to address air pollution by creating stricter policies that have a significant impact on reducing air pollution in the capital. [The Jakarta Post] This is especially as the government had been using the outdated 1999 regulation on air pollution, which has to be updated with new stipulations given the worsening of air pollution, according to Greenpeace Indonesia climate and energy campaigners. Citing Article 28H of the 1945 Constitution about the right to live in a healthy environment, another plaintiff commented that the proliferation of PM2.5 particles, above the World’s Health Organisation’s safe limit, could cause various illnesses such as acute respiratory infections. [The Straits Times]

28 May 2019

Indonesia: Post-election riots in Jakarta and Papua

(ls) Six people died and more than 700 were injured over several days in Jakarta after protesters clashed with security forces in riots triggered by mass protests against the re-election of incumbent President Joko Widodo, who triumphed over rival Prabowo Subianto after securing 55.5 per cent of the vote. Thousands gathered at Indonesia’s election supervisory agency on Wednesday, protesting against what they claimed was widespread fraud in the 17 April presidential poll. Nearly 60,000 security personnel were deployed on to the streets on Thursday. [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post 1]

Prabowo has lodged a legal challenge against the result at the Constitutional Court, alleging widespread fraud and claiming Widodo should have been disqualified. The Election Commission has said there was no evidence of systematic cheating and independent observers have said the poll was free and fair. The Constitutional Court must make a ruling on any challenge 14 days after it considers the plaintiff has provided sufficient documentation and the Election Commission should resolve the dispute by June 15. [Al Jazeera]

More than 300 supporters of a legislative candidate in Papua who claimed he should have won the seat in the local council attacked a district office. As a result, four people were shot dead by police during the riot. [South China Morning Post 2]

The recent election appears to have polarized Indonesia even more, reviving old divisions in an atmosphere of renewed anxiety about ethnic and religious identity. Moreover, after the fall of Jakarta’s governor “Ahok” in 2017, some of the Muslim organizations that had formed a movement to remove him began targeting Jokowi. In response, Jokowi has taken tough measures against them, including giving himself new powers to ban civil society groups. Many Islamist conservatives who reject Jokowi have since lined up behind Prabowo. [The Conversation]

During the protests, anti-Chinese images and messages spread rapidly, leading the government to temporarily block or slow the sharing of photos and videos onto Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, to halt the spread of false information. Chinese Indonesians living in Jakarta said they were worried they would once again be a target of mob violence similar to the one in 1998, where mobs attacked Chinese-owned shops, homes and individuals, leaving more than 1,000 people dead. [South China Morning Post 3]

19 March 2019

Indonesia: Key political ally of president Jokowi arrested on corruption charges

(ls) The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency, detained the chief of a political party backing President Joko Widodo’s bid for a second term, just weeks before the nation goes to the polls. The suspect is the Chairman of the United Development Party, an Islamic party which is among the 10 parties backing Widodo’s bid for re-election in the April 17 election. [Bloomberg]

19 March 2019

Indonesia: Anti-terrorism operations on the rise

(ls) The wife of an arrested Indonesian militant detonated a bomb that killed herself and her children on Wednesday in North Sumatra inside a house besieged by the police including the Detachment 88 anti terror squad. Figures from the Indonesian police showed that last year Detachment 88 killed or detained 396 militants, a record number and a sharp jump from the 176 in 2017. In May last year, a family of six carried out suicide bombings at three churches in Surabaya in Indonesia’s East Java province during Sunday mass, killing 13 people. [Straits Times]

19 March 2019

Malaysian court releases Indonesian woman charged with killing Kim Jong-nam – Vietnamese suspect stays in custody

(ls) In an unexpected decision, a Malaysian court has dropped the case against one of two women charged with the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. The Indonesian national Siti Aisyah was released from custody and flew home to Indonesia after the decision. Prosecutors, who had withdrawn the charges, did not give any reason for the retreat in their case against Siti. However, the court rejected her lawyer’s request for a full acquittal, as it said that the trial had already established a prima facie case and she could be recalled if fresh evidence emerged. [The Guardian]

Malaysia’s attorney-general on Thursday rejected Vietnam’s request to free the second suspect, the Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, and a court set April 1 for her trial to resume. Vietnam’s foreign ministry said it regretted the Malaysian court’s decision not to immediately free Huong. Indonesia’s government said Siti’s release was the result of its continual high-level lobbying. [Reuters]

The women were accused of smearing the toxic nerve agent VX on his face as he waited to board a flight to Macau. He died within 20 minutes. Defense lawyers have maintained the women were pawns in an assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents. Kim Jong Nam was living in exile in Macau before the killing, having fled his homeland after his half-brother Kim Jong Un became North Korea’s leader in 2011 following their father’s death.

19 March 2019

Indonesia’s ‘Red scare’ revived ahead of elections

(ls) Ahead of April’s national elections, the Indonesian police is currently engaged in raiding bookshops and confiscating books suspected of having communist content. These actions have reminded some of the 1960s, when more than half a million leftists were massacred across the Southeast Asian nation, a bloody spectacle that ushered in the long rule of dictator Suharto, whose fervent anti-communist stance remains decades on. In 2017, declassified US diplomatic documents revealed that a communist-fearing White House was well aware of the bloody purges, which one diplomat described as a “widespread slaughter”. [Straits Times]

11 March 2019

Indonesia ranked 2nd most dangerous place for women in Asia-Pacific

(cc) According to the findings of a research company based in Singapore, Indonesia is the second most dangerous country for women in Asia and the Pacific. Following the rape and murder of a 14 year-old in 2016, a bill on sexual violence is in discussion in Parliament but religious conservatives oppose strong resistance, notably on the definition of rape and the criminalization of marital rape. [Straitstimes]

11 March 2019

Indonesia: Deaths after violence in Papua

(jk) In a clash last week between Indonesian soldiers and a separatist group, three of the soldiers and between seven and ten rebels were killed. The attack on the soldiers is thought to have been conducted by the National Liberation Army of West Papua, which also claimed responsibility for an attack on construction workers at a jungle camp last year. [Channel News Asia]

11 March 2019

Indonesia: Amnesty International’s activist arrested for insulting the military

(cc/jk) Last week a board member of Amnesty International Indonesia was arrested by the Indonesian police for comparing a plan by the government to allow senior military officers to hold civilian positions in government institutions with the New Order Era under former President Suharto. He could face up to 18 months imprisonment for intentionally insult a public institution. For Amnesty International, his arrest is “not only a clear threat to the freedom of speech and expression in Indonesia, but also poses a threat for human rights activists in general”. [Straitstimes]

The plan was alleged to be a regression towards the military’s dual function doctrine which saw military influence in the government institutionalized. So far, it is supported by President Jokowi and would allow underemployed military personnel to take jobs in ministerial and civilian institutions. The legislation is still only in the early stages of discussion. [ATimes]

11 March 2019

Implications of a Ma’ruf Amin Vice-Presidency in Indonesia

(jk) Indonesian President Joko Widodo has last year decided to make 75-year-old Islamic scholar Ma’ruf Amin his running mate for next year’s presidential election. Amin is the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the top Muslim clerical body in Indonesia and was heavily involved in the scandal and subsequent prison sentence of ethnic Chinese Christian candidate “Ahok” who lost to Anies Baswedan in a bid to become governor of Jakarta in 2017. Making Amin his running mate for 2019 is largely viewed as an effort to make sure Jokowi appeals to the traditional Muslim vote for the presidential elections this year. With recent polls indicating the duo has a comfortable lead, this piece looks at the possible implications of this particular vice-presidency and in particular at possible further “islamization” of the Indonesian society. [ISEAS]