Tri Indah Oktavianti, Jakarta – The Jakarta Police have launched an investigation into a so-called anarcho-syndicalist group, which they claim has committed acts of vandalism and provocation in order to trigger social unrest across the island of Java amid public anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Authorities arrested last week five people suspected of being involved in the group after they had allegedly painted graffiti inciting people to riot with messages such as "it's a crisis now; it's time to burn", "kill the rich" as well as "die ridiculously or fight", on the walls of a shopping complex in Tangerang, Banten.
They had been charged under articles 14 and 15 of the 1946 Misinformation Law and Article 160 of the Criminal Code on public provocation, which carry sentences of up to 10 years' imprisonment.
Jakarta Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Yusri Yunus said that the police were currently investigating the group's plan to carry out mass looting in some areas across Java on April 18.
"The plan for [mass looting] on Apr. 18 was announced through social media. [...] We are still investigating the possibility of the presence of a mastermind who might also be funding the plan," Yusri said on Monday as quoted by tempo.co.
During the arrest of the five people, authorities also seized several books as evidence, including Aksi Massa (Mass Action) by Tan Malaka, Corat-coret di Toilet (Toilet Doodles) by Eka Kurniawan and Indonesia Dalam Krisis 1997-2002 (Indonesia in Crisis 1997-2002) by Kompas Research and Development Center, which the police believe to have influenced the suspects' thoughts.
The arrests came as authorities prepared for possible social unrest in response to the government's policy over the coronavirus pandemic, including social restrictions that aim to slow down the disease transmission, but which have also dealt a devastating blow to the earnings of millions of workers.
Manpower Ministry data show that over 1.5 million workers in both the formal and informal sectors have either been furloughed or laid off as companies temporarily halt operations, raising concerns that social unrest may erupt, especially if the government's social assistance for the affected, as well as poor and vulnerable households, is not distributed equitably.
Despite such concerns, human rights activists have warned the police not to act arbitrarily and make arrests simply based on the ideology of certain people without sufficient evidence to prove their crimes.
National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) commissioner Beka Ulung Hapsara demanded the police substantiate their claims and allegations against the anarcho-syndicalist activists.
"I think the police have overreacted about the books, which [they] consider to be influencing vandalism," Beka told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
For instance, Tan Malaka's Aksi Massa includes the narrative of a movement against colonizers and injustice, which Beka said was opposite to the ideology of anarcho-syndicalism.
"Don't let the abrogation of the right to gain knowledge in the name of social order happen again like what had happened during the New Order era," he added,
Rights group Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) coordinator Yati Andriyani also criticized the arrests made by the police, asking them not to arrest anyone on baseless charges.
"The arrests should not be based on suspicion or certain analyses targeting a certain group with a certain ideology or the expression of certain political beliefs," Yati told the Post, "Without a proven base, it can lead to stigma and persecution."
She went on to question the validity of the police's claim about the group's plan to conduct mass looting across Java Island next Saturday, saying that the police should not make public their premature conclusions as this would "only create unrest among society".
"Several acts of vandalism allegedly committed by people linked to an anarcho-syndicalist [group] does not justify the persecution of any group," Yati said, "We are worried that the arrests might contravene human rights."