Fikri Harish, Jakarta – Advocates have deplored a series of wide-ranging and coordinated cyberattacks against journalists and employees of the media company Narasi and have urged the police to act immediately.
The attacks happened over the weekend against Narasi, which has reinforced its criticism of the government recently.
Speaking at a virtual press conference held by the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) on Monday, Narasi's head of newsroom Laban Laisila said the attacks aimed to take control of the Telegram, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts of its employees.
"There are already 24 of Narasi's employees, not just limited to those working in the newsroom, but also in finance, human capital and the supporting staff, who have been targeted by these attacks," said Laban. He also added that four former employees were targeted in the attack, bringing the total to 28.
Advocates decried this assault on press freedom and pushed law enforcement to not play favorites when dealing with cyberattacks.
AJI chairman Sasmito Madrim condemned this as an "assault on multiple fronts; on Narasi, on the freedom of the press and on the public as a whole".
He added that when a journalist was attacked, the flow of information to the public was obstructed, and he encouraged law enforcement to solve this matter as quickly and as transparently as possible.
In the past, Sasmito observed a discrepancy between the way law enforcement has treated cyberattacks involving state or government institutions and those involving the press.
"There has to be transparency in why the police move quickly on cases involving the state but always take their time when the press is the victim", Sasmito said.
While Indonesia is no stranger to cyberattacks against journalists, the attack against Narasi represents the biggest attempt on a media company in at least four years, according to AJI.
It was also the first attack on the media since the House of Representatives passed into law last week the long-awaited Personal Data Protection Law that grants citizens more control over their personal information online and seeks to spur cybersecurity improvements amid a recent string of digital attacks in the country.
Ahmad Fathanah of the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers) highlighted a case of hacking of the Cabinet Secretariat as an example of law enforcement giving preferential treatment.
On July 31 last year, the secretariat's website was hacked, and less than a week later on Aug. 6, the police had already caught two of the alleged perpetrators.
"This case shows that it's possible for the police to be proactive in dealing with cyberattacks, even without a police report", said Ahmad.
By comparison, even when the LBH Pers had filed a police report regarding the hacking of the Tirto and Tempo websites in August 2020, there has been no follow-up from the police until today.
Ahmad argued that this was evidence of preferential treatment from the police, while Sasmito goes further, saying that their inaction signaled the need for police reform.
"Do the police even support press freedom? If not, this underlines the need for police reform. The President has to intervene given how differently the police are treating cyberattacks against journalists with cyberattacks against state institutions", said Sasmito.
Aside from the lack of police action, Nenden Arum from the Journalist Safety Committee (KKJ) also pointed to an alarming trend of cyberattacks being used as a "chilling effect".
"From what we've seen, these kinds of cyberattacks tend to happen when a journalist or a media company is being critical of a certain act or policy", explains Nenden.
She cited the hacking of Tempo and Tirto websites in 2020 and the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on Project Multatuli in October 2021 as examples of this trend.
Both Tempo and Tirto were critical of how the government handled COVID-19 at the time. Meanwhile, Project Multatuli published an exhaustive report on alleged police inaction in a South Sulawesi rape case involving three young children. These attacks, and the subsequent police inaction, might give the press some pause before deciding to run a story of a critical nature.
"This is a way for the perpetrators to strike terror and create a chilling effect in order to stifle criticism on sensitive issues," argued Nenden.