Indonesia: Police intensify cyber monitoring during the Covid-19 outbreak

The Indonesian National Police have intensified social media monitoring in efforts to prevent the dissemination of false information and comments that defame the President and government officials during the Covid-19 outbreak. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has backed its affiliate the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia in objecting to the monitoring order and urge authorities to focus more on tackling the pandemic and ensuring the dissemination of accurate, transparent information.

A vendor pushes a cart past a mural depicting the COVID-19 coronavirus in Bangkalan, east Java on April 6, 2020. Credit: Juni Kriswanto/AFP

The order, signed by Head of the Criminal Investigation Agency Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo on April 4, stated that the police’s cyber patrol will monitor the spread of coronavirus-related hoaxes, defamation against the president and the government and online fraud associated with the sale of health and medical equipment.

Social media users, who spread false information relating to government policies to tackle the pandemic, will be charged under the articles 14 and or 15 of the criminal code. If they are guilty, the social media users will face a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.

In addition, those found insulting the President and government officials will be subject to the Criminal Code's Article 207, carrying a maximum sentence of 1.5 years in prison. Health equipment frauds will be charged under the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law.

AJI, in its join statement with other freedom of expression and freedom of the press organisations, said they urge the authorities to drop the order and called on police to act professionally and without partisan political pressure during the pandemic.

“AJI asks the National Police to prioritise the principles of Human Rights and Due Process of Law when they carry out its functions and duties amid the outbreak,” AJI added.

On March 30, police arrested four suspects for spreading hoaxes related with Covid-19. At the end of last month, police recorded at least 45 cases of dissemination of hoaxes. Indonesian health authorities have confirmed 2,956 Covid-19 positive cases with 240 people dying from the virus as of Wednesday, April 8.

The IFJ said: “IFJ condemns any efforts from the National Police that will damage freedom of speech and access to information in Indonesia. Intensified monitoring and threats of arrest may hinder the public’s right to express their opinions. Amid the health crisis, it is essential for the government to listen to suggestions and criticisms so that authorities can improve their public health strategy and successfully tackle the pandemic in the country.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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