Nina A. Loasana – The human rights situation in Indonesia deteriorated in 2020 as the government failed to stop rampant unlawful killings in the Papua region and critical voices continued to be stifled by a draconian anti-defamation law, Amnesty International Indonesia found in its latest annual report.
Amnesty recorded 19 cases of unlawful killings by security forces in West Papua and Papua last year, claiming the lives of 30 people, said Usman Hamid, the director of the organization's Indonesian office.
One notable case was the killing of the head of the Indonesian Evangelical Christian Church, Yeremia Zanambani, in Hitadipa, Intan Jaya, Papua, on Sept. 19, 2020. The police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) claimed an armed group was behind his death. However, activists in Papua who were in close communication with the priest's family rejected this and alleged that the military had shot Yeremia during a search for members of an armed group suspected of killing two military officers.
Amnesty noted that similar incidents continued to take place this year. At least six people died in four unlawful killing cases in Papua and West Papua from January to March.
Amnesty also highlighted the rarity of investigations into reports of unlawful killings by security forces in Papua and the impunity of the perpetrators.
The report found that only four of the 50 unlawful killing cases that were recorded in Papua from 2018 to 2021 had been brought to military or civilian courts. Investigations into the four cases remained pending at the end of 2020 and no verdicts had been delivered.
"If President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo really cares about the lives of Papuans, the government must ensure that investigations into extrajudicial killings in Papua are carried out promptly, effectively, independently and impartially, and also ensure that these cases are brought to civilian courts," Usman said.
The space for freedom of expression, Amnesty noted, continued to shrink last year, especially on digital platforms. An increasing number of people were imprisoned solely for expressing their opinions and were charged under the controversial Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law.
There were at least 132 cases of freedom of speech violations in the country last year, resulting in the arrest of 157 people, including 15 activists and four journalists. This was the highest number of annual cases in the past six years. The report found that civil liberties were in jeopardy as the National Police continued to crack down on voices critical of the government. On April 4, 2020, the National Police headquarters issued a circular instructing the police nationwide to monitor cyberspace and to take action against "hoax spreaders" and those who insulted the President and his administration.
At least 57 people were arrested on charges of spreading "false news" and insulting the President and his administration. In October 2020, former National Police chief Idham Azis instructed his men to carry out "cyber patrols" on social media and "media management" to propagate negative sentiment about workers' strikes and public protests against the passage of the controversial Job Creation Law.
The police called for early intelligence gathering to detect opposition from labor groups and the general public to prevent mass protests and to "create a counter-narrative against issues that discredit the government".
In February of this year, the newly appointed National Police Chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo launched a "virtual police squad" for tracking social media posts containing criminally offensive content, sparking further fears of shrinking civic space and electronic surveillance.
Attacks against activists, academics and students who discussed politically sensitive issues, such as alleged abuses in Papua, or criticized the government also rose. From February 2019 to September 2020, Amnesty found, 201 human rights defenders and social justice leaders were victims of human rights abuses, either offline or online.
This online intimidation took many forms, including credential theft of WhatsApp accounts, spam calls from unidentified international numbers and digital harassment, such as intrusions during online discussions.