The government is appearing increasingly authoritarian during this Covid-19 pandemic. This could damage its credibility.
THERE is an irony with Joko Widodo’s administration: this outcome of the democratic process is now showing its authoritarian side. It is more even more ironic because the signs of this have become more apparent at a time when the people are suffering as a result of the Coronavirus Disease 2019, or Covid-19, pandemic. The repressive actions by the security forces will make it more difficult to build public solidarity, which is sorely needed to overcome the effects of the pandemic.
The repressive face of the authorities was seen in the arrest of Ravio Patra on the night of Wednesday, April 22. The public policy researcher was detained by police and accused of inciting disturbances and spreading hatred. It is difficult to not link this detention with the criticism Ravio expressed against the government. Among other things, he highlighted the conflicts of interest of millennial members of the president’s special staff.
The authorities clearly abused their power because the police subsequently announced that Ravio was detained as a witness, not as a suspect. Normally, a witness can only be detained if he or she has ignored three summonses for questioning. The excess was made worse by the fact that during his questioning, Ravio’s cell phone and laptop were confiscated.
This detention was also marked by apparent hacking of Ravio’s phone. Before he was arrested, his WhatsApp account was taken over and subsequently used to send an incitement to start looting. It was this message that was used as the basis for the police accusation that Ravio was inciting disturbances. However, a simple analysis, for example comparing the writing style of Ravio on different social media, clearly shows differences with the sentence “urging looting” sent from his WhatsApp account.
The angry face of the authorities was even shown to activists working to provide assistance. One example was the breaking up by the police and village officials of a meeting of Yogya Food Solidarity soup kitchen volunteers at the secretariat of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment on Saturday April 18. The police claimed they broke up the meeting to prevent disturbances. In another location, police officers struck the head of an activist who was taking food to a Gusdurian Cares Covid-19 command post in Sumenep, Madura, East Java.
One possible trigger for these repressive actions by the authorities could be the telegram sent by National Police Chief Gen. Idham Azis asking his officers to carry out cyber patrols to monitor opinion articles and hoaxes related to Covid-19 and government policy. He also ordered his officers to monitor for citizens who were insulting those in power. Unsurprisingly, after the April 4 telegram, the number of arrests grew.
Jokowi should immediately put a halt to the excessive actions of the security forces because the National Police is directly under the control of the president. He needs to protect the freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution. The dark days of the New Order, with its violations of human rights, must not be repeated.
Public criticism of the government is vital in a democracy. This is especially true now when the executive has almost absolute power because it controls the majority of seats in the House of Representatives. Differing opinions are not something toxic that must be pushed aside, including by accusing those behind them of inciting disturbances.
Criminalization and silencing of the people should be stopped. An authoritarian face will weaken the government’s credibility. After all, government credibility is crucial to mobilize the people, build public solidarity and overcome the problems caused by the pandemic.